The U.S. is sending a pair of Patriot anti-missile batteries, and some 400 troops to operate them, to protect NATO ally Turkey from any stray missiles from Syria. German and the Netherlands are slated to do the same.
This is more about coming to the aid of a NATO partner with trouble on its doorstep than a move of military significance. Over nearly two years, the rebellion in Syria has killed about 40,000 people while the U.S. and the West have done little to help those seeking to overthrow Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the Patriot deployment orders Friday as he flew from Afghanistan to Incirlik, Turkey. Patriot missiles are designed to shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft. The Patriots “can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need to deal with the threats coming out of Syria,” Panetta said at the base, about 60 miles from the Syrian border.
The U.S. and others have warned Assad that they will respond, likely with military force, if he uses his stockpile of chemical weapons on his own people.
Assad apparently is not deaf. Western intelligence agencies reported this week he unleashed crude Scud missiles on rebellious sections of northern Syria. Unfortunately for those targeted, the missiles carried only conventional warheads, which kill by blast, dismemberment, and gross trauma, instead of killing by disrupting the nervous system, as Syria’s sarin gas does.
The U.S. deployment will take its time getting to the southeastern corner of Turkey closest to Syria. Pentagon officials suggest it will take about three weeks. No one in the Pentagon knows if the increasingly beleaguered Syrian strongman will be in power that long.