U.S. Defense Secretary visits Turkey's İncirlik base
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. AP Photo
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed Friday at the Incirlik air base in Turkey that hosts US troops, as part of a tour that has also taken him to Afghanistan and Kuwait.
The visit by the US defence chief comes a week after NATO approved Turkey's request for Patriot missiles to defend its border with its war-torn neighbour Syria. A report in the New York Times on Friday said that the US plans to send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 personnel to Turkey.
The United States plans to send two rocket-intercepting Patriot missile batteries and 400 military personnel to Turkey to deter Syrian attacks, the New York Times reported Friday.
The Times said the move is part of a larger effort to beef up Turkey's defenses as the civil war in neighboring Syria grows more violent, with another four Patriot batteries expected to be supplied by Germany and the Netherlands.
The report comes after US officials said Syria launched a number of Scud missiles in recent days, and amid heightened fears that it could resort to using its vast chemical weapons arsenal against advancing rebels.
Turkey has strongly backed the 21-month-old rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but fears he could lash out against it in desperation if the conflict grinds on.
US officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the Times report.
NATO hails Patriot deployment, insists 'defensive only'
NATO on Friday welcomed a US order to deploy two Patriot missile batteries and some 400 personnel near Turkey's border with Syria while insisting the move was purely defensive.
"We welcome the United States' contribution of two Patriot missile batteries to augment Turkey's air defences," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued the order to deploy the Patriots before landing in Turkey.
"This is a strong commitment to Alliance solidarity and security," Lungescu said.
"The deployment will be defensive only. It will not support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation," she added.
"Its aim is to deter any threats to Turkey, to defend Turkey's population and territory and to de-escalate the crisis on NATO's southeastern border." NATO also welcomed the intention of Germany and The Netherlands to contribute two batteries each.
The deployment aims to bolster Turkey's air defences amid tension on the Turkish-Syrian border.