ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Patriot missiles being sent by NATO members to bolster Turkey’s defenses against a possible missile attack from Syria will be deployed near the southeastern cities of Adana, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.
NATO approved Turkey’s request for the air defense system earlier this month, in a move meant to calm Ankara’s fears of being hit by Syrian missiles, possibly with chemical weapons.
Turkey, a NATO member, has repeatedly scrambled jets along the countries’ joint frontier and has responded in kind when shells from Syria came down inside its borders, fanning fears that the civil war could spread to destabilize the region.
“We made our application to NATO and they gave us six batteries and they will be deployed in Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Adana,” Erdogan told broadcaster NTV in a live interview.
The United States, the Netherlands and Germany have agreed to send two missile batteries each to Turkey along with around 400 troops from each country to operate the systems which are designed to intercept missiles or aircraft.
While the batteries were expected to be deployed near the Syrian border, Erdogan’s comments were the first confirmation of their location. NATO sent a reconnaissance team to Turkey last month to determine the best sites to deploy the batteries.
Adana, Turkey’s fourth-largest city, is located around 100 km (60 miles) from the Syrian border. The joint Turkish-American Incirlik Air Base is also just outside the city.
Gaziantep, a city of around 1.5 million people, is further to the east, some 60 km (35 miles) from the Syrian border. Kahramanmaras, to the north of Gaziantep, has around half a million inhabitants and is some 150 km (95 miles) from Syria.
While some foreign troops have already started arriving in Turkey with some equipment, the Patriot batteries will not arrive until early next month, with the missiles expected to be fully functional by the end of January.
Each truck-mounted Patriot battery consists of a command post, a radar to track incoming missiles, and up to eight launchers with up to eight Patriot missiles each.
The system can simultaneously track 50 targets and shoot down five. It takes about 85 soldiers to work one battery plus logistical support.
Defense experts have said it would be a stretch for six Patriot batteries to defend Turkey’s 910 km (560 mile) border with Syria but that they were usually stationed to protect strategically important targets like big cities, military installations or key infrastructure.
While both Turkey and NATO have maintained the Patriots are purely for defensive purposes, Syria and its allies Russia and Iran have criticized the NATO decision, saying it increases regional tensions.
Reporting by Seda Sezer; Editing by Jonathon Burch and Jon Hemming