The United States will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to undisclosed locations in Turkey to defend against potential Syrian missile attacks, a Department of Defense spokesman announced Friday, while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the besieged regime in Damascus will not have the "damn time" to react to the arms buildup on the other side of its border with Turkey.
Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters traveling with Panetta from Afghanistan to Turkey that Panetta signed the deployment order enroute, the Associated Press reported. During a brief stop at the Incirilik Air Base in Turkey, about 60 miles north of the Syrian border, Panetta told U.S. Air Force personnel he approved the deployment "so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need to deal with the threats coming out of Syria." The Pentagon announced in October that 100 U.S. troops had already been stationed sent near Syria's southern border as part of a plan for dealing "with various contingencies, both unilaterally and with out regional partners."
Panetta said Friday that the Defense Department had drawn up plans to give President Obama options if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons against rebel forces trying to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Obama recently warned Assad "there will be consequences and you will be held accountable" if he makes the "tragic mistake" of using such weapons. Syria has charged Western nations with raising the specter of chemical warfare as a pretext for a military intervention on behalf of the rebels.
When an Air Force member asked the defense secretary if he thought Syria would "react negatively" to the missile deployment, Panetta replied, "I don't think they have the damn time to worry," since the Assad regime is struggling to hold onto what is left of its power in fighting the armed rebellion that has been waged since March of 2011. The New York Times Thursday quoted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's prediction of the regime's imminent "collapse."
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Photo of Patriot surface-to-air missile battery: AP Images