Germany begins deployment of Patriot missiles to Turkey
Tuesday morning saw a ship carrying two Patriot missiles set out from a northeastern German seaport and a convoy of German soldiers fly out of the Dutch city of Eindhoven. They will assemble along the Turkish-Syrian border in preparation for the arrival of the defense systems in several weeks’ time.
Germany is sending a total of 350 troops to reinforce the border zone between the two countries, along with the US, which has pledged to send up to 400 troops and two missile batteries. The Netherlands will be providing the remaining two missile batteries.
All six missile batteries are expected to be fully operational by the end of January.
NATO, which is coordinating the deployment of the forces along the border, says that Syria poses a significant threat to neighboring Turkey and has described the move as purely defensive.
The Dutch Chief of Defense, General Tom Middendorp, told reporters that the risk of missile fire from Syria should not be downplayed.
"We want to prevent what could amount to large numbers of casualties among innocent civilians," he said, adding that "scud missiles have a potential range of hundreds of kilometers, so they could easily hit Turkish cities. Besides explosives, they can also carry other types of payload, for instance chemical warheads."
Fears have been growing over the possible use of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in the conflict and their falling into extremist hands. Moscow, however, has labeled these claims a pretext to push for foreign intervention in Syria.
Russia has criticized the NATO decision to deploy Patriots along the border on the basis that they could be used for offensive purposes as well as defensive, potentially escalating the ongoing conflict.
Military vehicles of a Patriot missile system are loaded on a ship in the harbour of Travemuende, January 8, 2013. (Reuters/Fabian Bimmer)
‘Turkey the real risk’
Concern has been voiced that the reinforcement along the Turkish border could be used as a platform to enforcement a no-fly zone above Syria or mount attacks on targets inside the country. Manuel Ochsenreiter, a German journalist told RT that the deployment of the troops and missiles was "questionable".
"The government is not acting in public interests or in the interests of national security,” he said, stating the German government was kowtowing to NATO’s and the Western community’s interests.
Ochsenreiter said that deploying weapons and soldiers to the area was already an offensive act, especially given the Syrian opposition’s numerous calls for reinforcements and arms.
He described the troop build-up along the border as “a high risk for the entire region,” perhaps preempting a situation similar to the conflict in Afghanistan where the conflict dragged out for over 10 years.
Syrian President Bashar Assad outlined a peace solution to the conflict in Syria on Sunday, starting with the withdrawal of international support for opposition agents he condemned as “terrorists linked with Al-Qaeda.”
Assad’s plan was rejected by the nascent opposition group the Syrian Coalition as “empty rhetoric” and said that his stepping down could be the only prerequisite to negotiations.
Patriot missiles loaded on trucks leave the airbase de Peel in Vredepeel January 7, 2013. (Reuters/Michael Kooren)
A convoy transporting 'Patriot' missiles sets off in Sanitz, northern Germany, on January 6, 2013. (AFP Photo/DPA/Bernd Wustneck)