Dutch Patriot missiles head for Turkey's Syria border
VREDEPEEL, Netherland - Agence France-Presse
The Netherlands' Patriot missile batteries on Monday began their journey to fellow NATO member Turkey where they are to defend civilians near the border from a possible Syrian attack.
Around 160 vehicles carrying the missiles and equipment for 300 Dutch support troops left the Bestkazerne military base in Vredepeel in the southeastern Netherlands on Monday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.
The convoy is headed for Eemshaven port in the north of the country from where it will sail for Turkey and is expected to arrive around January 22.
The US and Germany are also sending Patriot surface-to-air missiles to southeastern Turkey following a request from Ankara because of the threat of the deadly 21-month civil war in Syria spilling over.
The Turkish request came after repeated cross-border shelling from Syria, including an October attack that killed five civilians.
The Dutch Patriots and support troops will be tasked with defending the city of Adana, population 1.5 million, which lies around 100 kilometres (over 60 miles) from Syria.
Mission commander Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Buis told journalists that 30 Dutch troops would fly out on Tuesday to begin setting up and the remaining 270 troops would fly out on January 21.
The US began deploying its Patriots on Saturday, while the German missiles are to arrive in Turkey on January 21. Syria's allies Iran and Russia oppose the Patriot deployment, fearing that it could spark regional conflict also drawing in NATO.
"This is a purely defensive mission," General Tom Middendorp, the Netherlands top military officer, told journalists.
"We do not know whether the missiles will cross the border but what we do know is that Syria has deadly offensive weapons at its disposal and has already deployed them on a grand scale," he said.
"We want to prevent what could amount to large numbers of casualties among innocent civilians." Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last month rejected Iranian accusations that the West was preparing another world war by deploying Patriots near the border with Syria.
"The mission is purely focussing on threats coming from Syrian territory, the mission does not encompass possible threats from other countries," Middendorp said.