VREDEPEEL (The Netherlands): 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 kilometres 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 US 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 underestimated.
“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.
US 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.—Reuters