VREDEPEEL, Netherlands — The Netherlands’ Patriot missile batteries on Jan. 7 began their journey to fellow NATO member Turkey, where they are to defend civilians near the border from a possible Syrian attack.
Around 160 vehicles carrying the missiles and equipment for 300 Dutch support troops left the Bestkazerne military base in Vredepeel in the southeastern Netherlands the morning of Jan. 7, an AFP correspondent reported. The convoy is headed for Eemshaven port in the north of the country, from where it will sail for Turkey and is expected to arrive around Jan. 22.
The U.S. and Germany are also sending Patriot surface-to-air missiles to southeastern Turkey following a request from Ankara because of the threat of the deadly 21-month civil war in Syria spilling over. The Turkish request came after repeated cross-border shelling from Syria, including an October attack that killed five civilians.
The Dutch Patriots and support troops will be tasked with defending the city of Adana, population 1.5 million, which lies around 100 kilometers (more than 60 miles) from Syria. Mission commander Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Buis told journalists that 30 Dutch troops would fly out on Jan. 8 to begin setting up, and the remaining 270 troops would fly out on Jan. 21.
The U.S. began deploying its Patriots on Jan. 5, while the German missiles are to arrive in Turkey on Jan. 21.
Syria’s allies Iran and Russia oppose the Patriot deployment, fearing that it could spark regional conflict also drawing in NATO.
“This is a purely defensive mission,” Gen. Tom Middendorp, the Netherlands’ top military officer, told journalists. “We do not know whether the missiles will cross the border, but what we do know is that Syria has deadly offensive weapons at its disposal and has already deployed them on a grand scale,” he said. “We want to prevent what could amount to large numbers of casualties among innocent civilians.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last month rejected Iranian accusations that the West was preparing another world war by deploying Patriots near the border with Syria.