Brussels: Considering Turkey’s request for boosting its defence in wake of the deadly Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, NATO on Wednesday approved the deployment of Patriot anti-missiles along border with Syria.
The 28-member alliance’s foreign ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday to decide on Turkey’s request of shoring up its defenses against any threat of cross-border attacks from Syria.
NATO while approving Turkey’s request for the missiles also underlined the fact that Patriots would be deployed solely for the defensive purpose so that any possible shelling from Syria could be staved off.
"We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. "To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, `Don`t even think about it!`"
Fogh Rasmussen stressed that the deployment of the Patriot systems which includes missiles, radar and other elements would in no way support a no-fly zone over parts of Syria nor aid any offensive operation against the Arab state.
But the decision to deploy the systems takes the United States and its European partners closer to the war, with the possibility of US-made and alliance-operated hardware being used against the Assad regime for the first time.
Officials say the Patriots will be programmed so that they can intercept only Syrian weapons that cross into Turkish airspace. They aren`t allowed to penetrate Syrian territory pre-emptively. That means they would have no immediate effect on any government offensives chemical or conventional that remain strictly inside Syria`s national borders.
Still, Fogh Rasmussen insisted that the weapons could help de-escalate tensions along a border across which tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled and which has emerged as a critical transit point for weapons being smuggled to the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.
Germany and the Netherlands are expected to provide to Turkey several batteries of the latest PAC-3 version of the US-built Patriots air defense systems, which is optimized to intercept incoming missiles.
The US would likely fill any gaps, possibly by sending some from its stocks in Europe.
But the exact details of the deployment and the number of batteries are still to be determined by NATO.
A joint team is studying possible basing sites in Turkey, and parliaments in both Germany and the Netherlands must then approve shifting assets and the possible involvement of several hundred soldiers. It`s unclear if any American soldiers would need to be deployed.
NATO also sent a tough message to Assad by warning against the use of chemical weapons.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen chose similar words used by Obama to warn Syria when he said, "The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community".
With Agency Inputs