US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order on Friday to send 400 US soldiers and two batteries of Patriot air defence missiles to Turkey to defend the NATO member from potential Syrian missile attacks.
The United States will deploy two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with 400 troops to help defend its ally against potential threats from neighbouring Syria, US officials said Friday.
The move was part of a wider NATO effort to bolster Turkey's air defences amid growing tension on the Turkish-Syrian border, with Ankara siding with opposition forces battling President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued the order before landing at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey after a visit to Afghanistan, his spokesman said.
"The secretary, as we are en route to Turkey, has signed an order that will deploy some 400 US personnel to Turkey to support two Patriot missile batteries," George Little told reporters aboard Panetta's plane.
"We expect them to be deployed in the coming weeks."
Turkey is a "very strong ally" and the US government is prepared in the context of NATO to support the defence of Turkey," Little said.
Germany and the Netherlands also have agreed to provide advanced "hit-to-kill" Patriot weapons, which are designed to knock out cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.
The move coincides with rising fears the Syrian regime may resort to using chemical weapons against rebel forces and after Assad's army unleashed Scud missiles in recent days.
US and European leaders have warned the Assad regime not to use its arsenal of chemical arms, calling it a "red line" that would trigger international military action.
Turkey has vowed to defend its territory after cross-border artillery fire wounded civilians and following the downing of one of its fighter jets.
The Patriot, or 'Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target,' came into its own during the 1991 Gulf War when they were deployed to protect allies and US forces from Iraqi Scud missiles. The Patriot's boxy launch units became instantly recognisable in TV images of the conflict.
The anti-ballistic defence system was developed by arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin for the US Army.
Panetta arrived in Turkey for a brief stop after a two day visit to Afghanistan, where he consulted with commanders on future troop numbers.
But his tour was marred by a suicide bombing attack at Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan, which occurred less than three hours after he paid a visit to the NATO base on Thursday.
One US soldier was killed and three others wounded in the blast. Seventeen Afghan civilians and one Afghan army soldier were also injured as the bomber detonated his vehicle near the huge airbase outside of Kandahar city.
Date created : 2012-12-14