Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
said last month:
"We've made very clear to them that we're going to protect countries in this region. We have to act to do what we have to do to make sure that we defend ourselves and make sure that Turkey can defend itself."
Turkey's military has been retaliating
after each shelling from Syria since Syrian fire killed five civilians on October 3. Subsequently Turkey made a request to NATO that Patriot surface-to-air missiles be deployed near its border with Syria. The US, Germany, and the Netherlands agreed to deploy Patriot air defense missile batteries to intercept any Syrian ballistic missiles. Syria has fired some Scud missiles which are notoriously inaccurate. Recent reports note that Syria is now using more accurate Iranian-made missiles.
While the overall operation
is under control of NATO, the missiles will be operated by US forces. In all there will be a deployment of 400 American troops and two Patriot missile batteries as early as mid-January. The US forces will have the ability to override computer systems that will automatically fire at any incoming Scud missiles.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that he wanted to send a clear message to Syria that NATO will defend Turkey when he signed the order to deploy the troops and missiles. The NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Admiral, James Stavridis, was particularly concerned about Scud missiles and wrote on his blog:
"Scuds, which are medium surface-to-surface missiles, are particularly worrisome because they can carry chemical payloads."
Additional batteries of Patriot missiles are to be deployed from Germany and the Netherlands. It is expected that six batteries in total will be deployed. The 27 troops that have just arrived will be doing a final site survey.
The batteries need to be placed so that the radar will get maximum warning time of any launch of missiles inside Syria. Overhead US satellites would also give warning of a launch. Overall command
of the six batteries will be with Stavridis:
"I will retain operational command responsibility for the deployment of the six Patriot batteries. Over the coming days and weeks, we will train and exercise the layers of command down to the actual Patriot battery to make sure we are ready to expeditiously engage any potential incoming missiles.".
Some analysts, particularly in Russia, see the deployment as a provocation. However, NATO argues that they are purely defensive and not designed to enforce a no-fly zone or anything of that sort.