WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The first shipment of a battery of US Patriot missiles arrived in Turkey on Thursday for deployment in case of an escalation of conflict with neighboring Iraq–a US Defense Department spokesman’said.
Last week the United States said it had agreed to send a battery of Patriot missiles to Turkey as a precautionary measure. "The deployment was not as a result of a direct or immediate threat to Turkey," said a Pentagon spokesman.
The Turkish request for missiles followed hostile statemen’s by the Iraqi government immediately after Operation Desert Fox last month–when US and British forces launched a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq.
The first members from the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade–near Giebelstadt–Germany–had begun arriving at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey on Thursday–accompanied by some Patriot equipment.
Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon told a news briefing later on Thursday that the Patriots sent to Turkey were a "minimum engagement package" consisting of three missile launchers that would be deployed for about 30-60 days.
Incirlik is a base for US and British aircraft patrolling the Western-enforced no-fly zone in northern Iraq–set up after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraqi Kurds from possible attacks by Baghdad. There is a similar no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
Incirlik-based US fighter planes have attacked Iraqi air defenses several times this month in the northern exclusion zone.
However–Bacon said a combination of bad weather and the end of Ramadan had led to a pause in US flights over both the southern and northern no-fly zones in recent days. He said the pause was not linked to Iraqi threats to attack foreign planes in its airspace.
He added that US and British forces continued to monitor the area and that one violation was reported by the Iraqis on Thursday.
Patriot missiles were used in Israel during the Gulf War to shoot down incoming Iraqi Scud missiles. They were also sent to the Gulf during last month’s bombardment of Iraq.