The deployment of Patriot anti-missile systems from Germany to its NATO-partner Turkey has gotten underway. Germany has also sent an additional convoy of soldiers to help set up the defense system.
In the early morning hours on Tuesday, a ship carrying two Patriot anti-missile systems set out from the northeastern German seaport Lübeck-Travemünde for Turkey. A separate convoy of German soldiers was expected to fly later in the day from the Dutch city of Eindhoven, along with Dutch troops, where they will prepare for the defense systems' arrival in several weeks.
Germany, the Netherlands and the US agreed to deploy the defense systems in reponse to a request for NATO assistance to protect Turkey's population in the wake of unrest along its border with Syria. They are the only three members of the Western military alliance that have the most advanced models of the Patriots, which are designed to intercept enemy missiles or aircraft.
"We want to prevent what could amount to large numbers of casualties among innocent civilians," the Dutch Chief of Defense, General Tom Middendorp, told reporters.
"Scud missiles [being used in the Syrian conflict] have a potential range of hundreds of kilometers, so they could easily hit Turkish cities. Besides explosives, they can also carry other types of payload, for instance chemical warheads," he said.
NATO approved the military assistance in early December after escalation in the Syrian civil war - which began nearly two years ago - spilled over into Turkey.
Germany and Turkey have repeatedly stressed that the missiles are for purely defensive purposes.
Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed her country's commitment to protecting its southern ally.
"The mandate is clearly formulated, the purpose is distinctly defensive, in order to not become involved in the Syrian conflict," she said.
"Turkey is a NATO member, it is obvious that we will stand by our allies," said Merkel.
Germany has said it plans to deploy just under 400 troops in the coming weeks.
kms/rg (dpa, AFP, Reuters)