NATO's Patriot anti-missile defenses batteries stationed along Syria's border with Turkey will become operational this week, a senior official said Wednesday.
British Brig. Gen. Gary Deakin said Patriot batteries sent by the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands have reached Turkey and are being deployed in the south of the country. They are meant to protect the NATO member from any possible incoming ballistic missiles from Syria, where a vicious civil war has left at least 60,000 people dead.
"We expect to have an initial operating capability this weekend," Deakin told reporters.
He said the batteries will achieve their full capability by the end of the month.
"We estimate that once it is in place at those locations we will provide protection against missiles for up to 3.5 million people," Deakin said, adding that NATO was planning to keep the batteries in Turkey for at least a year.
Turkey asked NATO in November to urgently deploy the US-made missiles to bolster its defenses.
Syria is believed to have hundreds of artillery rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles — including Soviet-built SS-21 Scarabs and Scud-B missiles — in its arsenal. The latter are capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Although Syria is reported to have used tactical surface-to-surface rockets against rebel forces on several occasions in the nearly two-year civil war, none has landed inside Turkey.
Syria's conflict started in March 2010 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly morphed into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a bloody crackdown by the government.