WASHINGTON -- NATO on Tuesday delivered its widely anticipated pledge to deploy Patriot missile batteries to Turkey as a new means of protecting the alliance member state from feared Syrian ballistic missiles carrying chemical warfare agents.
Ankara in late November requested air-defense support along its lengthy border with Syria after a number of mortars and shells landed in Turkish territory, causing several deaths.
"The situation along NATO’s southeastern border and the repeated violations of Turkey’s territory raise grave concern. As the North Atlantic Council made clear on June 26 and Oct. 3, we stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity," top diplomats from NATO member nations said in a statement issued from their meeting in Brussels, Belgium. "We, the NATO foreign ministers, declare our determination to deter threats to and defend Turkey.
"In response to Turkey’s request, NATO has decided to augment Turkey’s air defense capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the alliance’s border. We have agreed to do so within the framework of the NATO integrated air defense system in order to preserve, protect and enhance the ability to defend the population and territory of Turkey in accordance with the NATO standing defense plan."
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking to reporters, offered a more succinct statement of purpose for the missile deployment: "To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say don’t even think about it."
The decision comes amid mounting international fear over reports the Bashar Assad regime has begun preparing sarin nerve agent for possible use in chemical strikes against opposition forces in the nation's civil war.
The statement offered no details on the location, quantity or duration of the Patriot deployments, which are to be "under the operational command" of Admiral James Stavridis, NATO supreme allied commander Europe.
Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States are the only countries in the 28-member alliance to have Patriot units available for deployment. German and Dutch lawmakers might have to sign off on fielding the weapons, Reuters reported, and it could be weeks before the Patriots are in place.
"The decision on whether or not to deploy Patriots, and for how long is, like all NATO decisions when it comes to the deployment of military forces, a national one," one diplomatic source told the news agency.
The foreign ministers reaffirmed NATO's position that the Patriots would be used solely to protect Turkey. "It will in no way support a no-fly zone [in Syria] or any offensive operations," according to the statement.
"We express our appreciation to the Turkish people and authorities for assisting Syrian citizens who found refuge in Turkey," the diplomats added. "We call for an end to violence in Syria, which represents a serious threat to stability and security in the region. We fully support the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution."
The announcement followed an alliance ministers' meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was anticipated to reaffirm the Kremlin's stance against the Patriot deployments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that the anticipated deployment would not stabilize the military situation along the Syrian-Turkish border, ITAR-TASS reported on Monday.
"If at the start of a play there is a rifle on the wall, it will fire by all means in the end," Putin said.
"Why should we need unnecessary shooting on the border? We share Turkey's concern about events on the border but we call for restraint," the president said during a visit to Istanbul to meet with the Turkish prime minister.
The Netherlands and Germany are expected to deploy multiple Patriot Advanced Capability 3 units, which are specially designed to destroy launched missiles. The United States is anticipated to fill out the remainder of Turkey's antimissile assistance request with Patriot batteries presently fielded in Europe, according to the Associated Press.
A Turkish NTV report reported differently that the Netherlands had agreed to field one PAC-2 unit while Germany had agreed to send two PAC-3 units, RIA Novosti reported.
A NATO team in Turkey has finished its assessment and has recommendations for where to place the Patriot batteries, local news organizations reported.