The U.S. will send two Patriot anti-missile batteries and 400 American personnel to Turkey to help defend against potential Syrian attacks.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the deployment order, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters traveling today with Panetta to Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. Asked if the Patriot batteries would be used to enforce a future no-fly zone over Syria, Little said it was “too early to say” how they will be used.
“We expect them to deploy in the coming weeks,” Little said. “The U.S., working closely with NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria.”
International allies have sought to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad as deaths in the conflict near 50,000. This week more than 100 countries recognized the main opposition group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, cementing its status as a government in waiting, and warned Assad that using his stockpiles of chemical weapons would invite military action.
The rebel forces battling Assad’s government since 2011 have called for a no-fly zone to create safe havens in border areas. In October, U.S. State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that allies had discussed ways of protecting civilians in those areas, including proposals for a no-fly zone.
Setting up a no-fly zone would be no easy feat. Russia and China have vetoed United Nations resolutions on Syria in the past. Russia today said it had not changed policy on Syria, despite comments yesterday by deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov who said Assad was losing control.
No-fly zones have been imposed without a UN mandate based on the doctrines of “implicit authorization” and “humanitarian intervention,” though neither doctrine has ever gained widespread acceptance in international law, according to Stefan Talmon, a professor at Oxford University.
The Patriot batteries, capable of shooting down enemy missiles, will remain in Turkey for an unspecified period of time and will be operated by the U.S. personnel, Little said. He declined to specify where the batteries, which Turkey requested to defend itself against Syrian fire, will be located.
Turkey and Syria had close ties until protests against Assad began. Tensions between the two governments have grown since the downing of a Turkish jet in June, the deaths of five Turks killed by a mortar round from Syria in October and the use by rebels of Turkish bases.
Turkey may also get four more Patriot batteries, two each from Germany and the Netherlands, and all six systems will be under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s command, the New York Times reported today.
Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, produces the Patriot PAC-3 interceptor and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, manufactures the launcher, radar and battle-management system.