AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday the government has agreed to send two Patriot missile systems to reinforce Turkey’s air defenses and calm its fears of coming under missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons, from Syria.
As many as 360 personnel will accompany the surface-to-air batteries which can intercept ballistic missiles. It has not yet been decided where near Syria’s border they will be sited.
“The Dutch deployment of Patriot systems aims to protect the population and territory of NATO ally Turkey and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the southeastern borders of the alliance,” the government said in a statement.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands, the only three NATO nations with the most modern type of Patriots, have all agreed to send missiles to protect their ally.
Germany and the Netherlands have each said they will send two Patriot batteries with multiple missile launchers.
A U.S. defense official said the United States would probably contribute two batteries, but the number has not been finalized yet and could go up.
Syria, Iran and Russia have criticized NATO’s Patriot move, saying it would deepen instability in the region.
Russia accused NATO on Friday of moving towards involvement in the Syrian conflict, in spite of NATO assurances that the Patriots are intended purely for defensive purposes.
Turkey, which has taken in thousands of refugees from Syria, has repeatedly scrambled jets along the border and responded in kind when shells from Syria’s civil war come down in its territory, underlining fears the conflict could spread to destabilize the region.
NATO approved Turkey’s request for air defense batteries on Tuesday, and Germany’s cabinet agreed on Thursday to send Patriot missiles and up to 400 soldiers.
Deployment of the missiles could take several weeks, NATO officials say.
Each truck-mounted German 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.
Patriot missiles have a maximum range of 20 km (12 miles) and defense experts said it would be a stretch for six Patriot batteries to defend Turkey’s 560 mile border with Syria.
But experts and military officials said Patriots were usually stationed at special points to protect strategically important targets like big cities, military installations or key infrastructure.
“It’s designed to protect a site, a place. It’s not something that reaches out and covers an area,” U.S. Army Lieutenant-General Frederick Hodges, commander of NATO’s new land command headquarters in the Turkish city of Izmir, told Reuters recently.
Ben Goodlad, a senior analyst at IHS Janes, said Patriots could be used against missiles carrying a chemical warhead, but would not be a guarantee that no chemical agents were released.
“They would be able to destroy the missile, but obviously the potential for chemicals to actually then be released during intercept is there. But they would be able to prevent a ballistic missile from actually reaching the target which would lower the impact of any chemical weapon attack,” he said.
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Nick Tattersall in Istanbul and Jonathon Burch in Ankara, David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Jon Hemming