* NATO has agreed to place Patriot missiles in Turkey to
defend against Syria
* Convoys take Dutch Patriots on first leg of journey
* Dutch defence chief sees "very real" threat of missile
attack from Syria
By Adrian Croft
VREDEPEEL, The Netherlands, Jan 7 Dozens of
camouflaged military trucks streamed out of an army base in the
southern Netherlands on Monday carrying Patriot missiles to
defend Turkey from what the Dutch defence chief called the real
threat of missile attack from Syria.
Five convoys totalling 160 vehicles ferried two Dutch
Patriot missile batteries from an army base near Eindhoven to
the port of Eemshaven, where they will be loaded onto a ship for
a two-week voyage to Turkey.
The Netherlands, Germany and the United States are each
sending two Patriot missile batteries and up to 400 troops to
Turkey after Ankara asked for NATO's help to bolster security
along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria.
The border has become a point of tension in the 21-month
insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, with Syrian
government shells frequently landing inside Turkish territory.
Turkey has repeatedly scrambled war planes along the
frontier, fanning fears that the civil war could spread and
further destablise the region.
The Dutch, German and U.S. Patriots will be stationed around
three southeastern Turkish cities.
The Dutch Chief of Defence, General Tom Middendorp, said the
threat to Turkey posed by Syrian missiles should not be
"We want to prevent what could amount to large numbers of
casualties among innocent civilians," he told reporters.
He said Syria was shelling its own population and also
firing medium-range missiles.
"These Scud missiles have a potential range of hundreds of
kilometres, so they could easily hit Turkish cities. Besides
explosives, they can also carry other types of payload, for
instance chemical warheads," he said.
Western governments say Syria has chemical weapons but the
Syrian government says that, if it had such weapons, it would
not use them against its people.
U.S. TROOPS ARRIVING
Lieutenant-Colonel Marcel Buis, who will command the Dutch
missile unit in Turkey, said a Patriot could be fired "within a
minute" if an incoming missile was detected.
The Dutch Patriots are expected to leave Eemshaven on
Tuesday and arrive in Turkey around Jan. 22, he said, standing
in front of a truck-mounted Patriot launcher. He expected the
Dutch Patriots to be operational by Jan. 26.
An advance party of Dutch and German troops will fly to
Turkey on Tuesday to prepare for the arrival of the Patriots
with the main body of European soldiers arriving later.
U.S. troops and equipment have already begun arriving in
Turkey. The Pentagon said on Friday the United States aimed to
have its Patriots in place by mid-January.
NATO approved Turkey's request for Patriots in early
December in what it called a purely defensive move.
Syria, Iran and Russia have criticised NATO's decision, but
Middendorp denied that sending the Patriots carried any risk of
escalation or of NATO getting dragged into the Syrian conflict.
The Dutch Patriots will be stationed around Turkey's fourth
largest city of Adana, which is 120 km (75 miles) from the
Syrian border, so it would be out of the Patriots' range to hit
a target over Syrian territory, according to Middendorp.
Each of the Dutch Patriot batteries consists of four PAC-2
model launching stations, each of which can be loaded with up to
four missiles, as well as two more advanced PAC-3 launching
stations, each with a total capacity of eight missiles, plus
radar and other equipment.
The PAC-2 missile works by exploding close to an incoming
missile while the more advanced PAC-3 hits the incoming missile
"It is like shooting with a bullet and hitting a bullet,"