U.S. missile teams in Turkey, missiles come later

Fri Jan 4, 2013 5:22pm EST
 
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By Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers who will man Patriot anti-missile batteries to protect Turkey from the spillover of Syria's civil war began arriving in the country on Friday, the U.S. military said, but the missiles themselves are due later.

Turkey formally asked NATO for the missiles in November to bolster security along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, which has been torn by a 21-month insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey repeatedly has scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind when Syrian shells came down inside its borders, fanning fears that the civil war could spread to destabilize the region.

About 400 U.S. personnel and equipment from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, based at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, will arrive in Turkey over the next several days by U.S. military airlift, the U.S. European Command said on its website.

No U.S. Patriot missiles arrived on Friday, however, according to a military source, and it will be several weeks before the missiles, supplied by Germany and the Netherlands, get to Turkey.

The U.S. troops, who began arriving at Incirlik air base in Turkey, will man two U.S. Patriot batteries out of a total of six batteries that have been promised by NATO allies.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the first U.S. military personnel belonging to the Patriot unit began arriving in Turkey on Friday and more will arrive over the coming days.

The equipment would start arriving a few days later, with the aim of having the U.S. Patriot batteries in place by mid-January, she said.   Continued...