International missile batteries aimed at protecting the Turkish border from a Syrian attack are now only days away from becoming fully operational, NATO officials said Wednesday.
Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have committed a total of six batteries to be set up along the southwest portion of the border to protect 3.5 million Turks from Syrian missile attacks, said British Brig. Gen. Gary Deakin, director of the Strategic Operations Center for NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The batteries will be able to deter an attack by this weekend, and will be fully set up for their year-long tour by the end of the month.
The missiles employed for this mission are purely defensive, Deakin said at a press briefing in Brussels, and could not be used for an alternative mission, such as enforcing a no-fly zone or other operations outside Turkish airspace.
"It is purely defensive in order to deter and hopefully de-escalate," Deakin said.
The Patriots also send "a very strong signal of allied solidarity," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said at the briefing.
"Currently it's all going according to plan," Deakin added. The mission follows a standard template for "air policing" that NATO has employed in Turkey previously in 1991 and 2003, he said.
Initial setup will be followed by long-term logistics—such as fuel, spare parts, and substitute staff—to maintain the Patriot batteries for the year-long mission NATO committed to Turkey.
Headquarters Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany, will serve as the command and control for the Patriots. Turkish military officials will be present at all levels of the operation, including at the batteries themselves to provide local support.
NATO deployed these Patriots in response to a Turkish request for protection at the end of 2012. The United States deployed equipment to the region first at the beginning of January. Dutch and German troops sailed their equipment from a port on Northern Europe, Deakin said, and began setting it up earlier this week.
The Syrian regime under President Bashar al Assad has already employed missiles against its own people in the almost two years of fighting, as well as cluster bombs and other aerial attacks. Roughly 60,000 have died since conflict erupted in March 2011, according to some estimates.
The fighting has also created a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries. More than 600,000 have fled to Turkey alone, according to CBS News.
The presence of the missiles on Turkish soil has incited protests, including a confrontation Tuesday night between local protesters and German troops in the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, according to local news agency Hurriyet Daily News. Members of the Turkish Youth Movement and the Workers Party tried putting bags on the heads of off-duty soldiers in plain clothes. The soldiers eventually sought refuge in a nearby jewelry store.
"No soldiers were injured," NATO's Lungescu said Wednesday. "What we saw was a very professional reaction by Turkish authorities who dealt with the incident."
"NATO is an alliance of democracies," she added. "Obviously we fully respect everyone's right of expression, however, there can be no justification for violence."