U.S. troops have begun deploying in Turkey to operate Patriot missile-launch batteries to defend against threats from the conflict in Turkey’s neighbor Syria.
NATO-member Turkey formally asked the alliance for Patriot missiles in November 2012 to bolster security along its 900-kilometer-long border with Syria.
The conflict in Syria began when protests erupted against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in March 2011. It developed into an armed uprising and is now widely considered a civil war.
Cross-border fire from Syria struck Turkey late last year. Patriot batteries are capable of firing missiles to shoot down aircraft and rockets.
The U.S. military’s European Command has said that some 400 American troops would be deployed to Turkey to operate two Patriot batteries supplied by Washington.
The first U.S. troops began arriving in Turkey on January 4.
Germany and the Netherlands are to supply two Patriot batteries and up to 400 troops each under the agreement with Turkey.
German and Dutch soldiers are expected to start deploying to Turkey next week.
The six Patriot batteries are scheduled to be operational by the end of January.
NATO has said the Patriot deployment is aimed at defending Turkey and will not support a no-fly zone, but the decision was strongly criticized by Syria, Iran, and Russia.
The deployment comes with the fighting in Syria escalating.
The United Nations this week said that more than 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the 21-month conflict.
On January 4, Syrian air and ground forces bombarded rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus.
The offensive came a day after a car bomb at a petrol station to the north of the capital killed at least 11 people.
Dozens of people were reported killed in an air strike at another petrol station in Damascus on January 2.
Based on reporting from AFP, Reuters, and dpa