US Patriot missiles, 400 personnel ordered to Turkey

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order to send six Patriot missiles and personnel to Turkey to help it defend itself from the Syrian civil war. Germany approved its contribution shortly afterward.

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey / BERLIN — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order Friday to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with 400 American personnel to operate them, his spokesman said.

"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," spokesman George Little told reporters before Panetta landed on an unannounced visit to Turkey.

A total of six Patriot missile batteries will be sent to Turkey — two from the United States, two from Germany and two from the Netherlands — the New York Times reported. All six batteries will be under NATO's command, the newspaper said, and all six are scheduled to be operational by the end of January.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition agreed to Turkey's request last week but needed the approval of the Bundestag for the deployment to go ahead. Lawmakers approved the help by 461 votes for and 86 against.

The German mandate lasts until January 2014.

The deployment, expected to take several weeks, comes as fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad's forces begins to shake the heart of his power in Damascus in a conflict that has so far killed at least 40,000 people.

Some left-leaning German lawmakers including Greens have criticized the Patriot plan, fearing it may stoke a wider regional conflict. Merkel's government has stressed the defensive nature of the batteries.

RELATED: Syrian jets bomb rebel base near Turkey border

Syria and its allies Russia and Iran have criticized the NATO decision, saying it increases regional tensions.

Each truck-mounted German Patriot battery consists of a command post, a radar to track incoming missiles, and up to eight launchers with up to eight Patriot missiles each.

The system can simultaneously track 50 targets and shoot down five. It takes about 85 soldiers to work one battery plus logistical support.

Patriot missiles have a maximum range of 12 miles and defense experts said it would be hard for six Patriot batteries to defend the 560 mile Turkish-Syrian border.

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