WASHINGTON -- NATO as of Monday has activated two of six Patriot batteries deployed in Turkey as a means of defense against ballistic missiles or other airborne threats launched by neighboring Syria.
The two Patriot batteries supplied by the Netherlands and fielded at the southern city of Adana are now operating under NATO command, an alliance official told Global Security Newswire.
The four remaining batteries supplied by Germany and the United States are respectively anticipated to go operational in Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep "in the coming days," the official, who asked to not be named in line with standing NATO disclosure rules, stated by e-mail.
"NATO allies asked us to augment Turkey's air defense capabilities in December, and we are delivering operational forces in January," NATO military chief Adm. James Stavridis said in remarks provided in a Saturday press release. "Thanks to the hard work of the nations providing Patriot systems, the expertise of communications specialists from six NATO nations, and the diligent planning of multinational military staff at Air Command Ramstein in Germany and at SHAPE Headquarters in Belgium, we have established this defensive capability promptly."
Ankara requested the air-defense support after Syrian artillery shells repeatedly fell on Turkish territory late last year and amid continuing concerns that the Bashar Assad government might use or lose control of its chemical weapons arsenal.
The 28-nation military alliance insists the Patriot systems are for defensive purposes only and could not be used as a precursor to establishing a no-fly zone in Syria, where fighting since early 2011 has already killed more than 60,000 people. NATO earlier this month estimated the Assad regime to have fired more than 20 Scud-type short-range ballistic missiles against Syrian rebels.
Patriot missiles are developed to target a number of dangers such as enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. The Patriot operation in Turkey, however, is understood to be primarily focused on combating potential Syrian ballistic missile strikes.
"Once the systems are fully operational, each ally [Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States] will have deployed 12 launcher stations, which will in each case be divided between the two deployed batteries. Each launcher station can carry up to 16 missiles," the NATO official said, declining to disclose the specific number of available missiles on the grounds that the information is classified.
The NATO mission in Turkey is initially planned to last no longer than a year though that may change depending on the evolving missile threat from Damascus.