BRUSSELS (AP) — The first of six Patriot missile batteries being deployed to Turkey to protect against attack from Syria was declared operational and placed under NATO command, the international organization said Saturday.
The battery, provided by the Netherlands, is meant to protect the city of Adana by shooting down missiles that could come over the Syrian border. Turkey has become a harsh critic of the regime in Syria, where a vicious civil war has left at least 60,000 people dead.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are providing two batteries each of the latest version of the U.S.-made Patriots. The other five Patriot batteries are expected to be in place and operational in the coming days in Adana, Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.
"This is a clear demonstration of the agility and flexibility of NATO forces and of our willingness to defend Allies who face threats in an unstable world," Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, said in a statement.
NATO reiterated Saturday that the Patriots are for defensive purposes only. Syria has not fired any of its surface-to-surface missiles at Turkey during its nearly two-year civil war and its government has described the NATO deployment as a provocation.
NATO also deployed Patriot batteries to Turkey during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 10 years ago. They were never used and were withdrawn a few months later.