Germany frets about troops on Turkish border | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 11.12.2012
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Middle East

Germany frets about troops on Turkish border

Defensive missiles will help Turkey defend itself from Syrian attack. Yet Germans worry about the potential for escalation, as well as the security of their 400 troops on the ground.

"It's a purely defensive deployment," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle recently in an effort to dispel any suspicions that German troops might see active engagement in the Syrian civil war. The single military deterrent that Germany is prepared to use are the Patriot air defense missiles. These missiles will share the 900-kilometer (560-mile) border between Turkey and Syria.

It's a border that has seen unrest for many months, and the plan is to better defend it - but only defend it. "Germany is in no way involved in any plans that entail intervention," Westerwelle said.

The installation of the surface-to-air missiles is planned for the beginning of 2013. Yet the process began early in summer. In June, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military plane, prompting the Turkish government in Ankara to immediately call on NATO partners to meet in consultation. When territorial integrity or security is threatened, every NATO member has the right to invoke a special session.

NATO members declared solidarity with Turkey, but at that point active deployment was not on the table. When Syrian mortar shells hit the Turkish border city of Akcakale in October, however, killing five civilians, the situation escalated. The Turkish army shot back and requested immediate assistance from NATO.

Children and adults are seen running away from smoke and dust clouds raise above the streets due to a mortar attack. (Photo: REUTERS/Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency)

Mortar bombs in Akcakale were the latest of Syria's provocations

Turkey under threat

Turkey, which has more than a half million on-duty soldiers, wasn't so much concerned about about creating a seamless border with Syria when it pleaded its case in Brussels. What worries the Ankara government far more is the arsenal of rockets that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime have at their disposal. Syria has "a few hundred rockets with a range of up to 700 kilometers that could reach Turkey," said German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière. In addition, Syria is sitting upon an arsenal of chemical weapons that are "armed and ready." In the event of an attack, a Patriot missile system could shoot such rockets down.

Though there hasn't been any evidence that Syria would employ its chemical weapons of mass destruction at this point, President Assad is now fighting for his political life - and perhaps even his physical survival.

On December 4, the NATO council decided unanimously to approve the deployment of Patriot missile batteries to Turkey. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussmen emphasized the solidarity of the alliance. "To anyone who would attack Turkey, we have this to say: Don't even think about it!" he said.

The German government delivered a more toned-down message. It hopes that in Damascus "no one will come to false conclusions" regarding its missile deployment, Defense Minister Maizière said.

Defense against rocket attacks

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference ahead a two-day NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels December 4, 2012. NATO foreign ministers will agree on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to beef up Turkey's air defenses and calm Turkey's fears that it could come under missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons, from Syria, diplomats said. REUTERS/Yves Herman (BELGIUM - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)

Anders Fogh Rasmussen at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Alongside Germany, the US and the Netherlands will also install Patriot missile batteries. All three countries attest to the modernity of the weapons. They're comprised of efficient radar devices that monitor swaths of air space and are operated - and also launched - from an off-site control center.

Post-launch, Patriot missiles seek and destroy airborne rockets aimed at Turkish targets. Ballistic rockets, airborne missiles and even airplanes can be targeted at distances of up to 68 kilometers. That said, the missiles are powerless against the kind of mortar fire that resulted in the deaths of Turkish citizens in October.

The German army plans to man two of the Patriot missile batteries under the leadership of NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, which since 2009 has been Admiral James G. Stavridis of the US Navy. That will require 170 troops.

The number 400, said Defense Minister Maizière, is provided by the mandate due to potential demand for additional soldiers in support roles for troops, equipment, as well as logistics. The German army will also take part in monitoring air space through the use of AWACS aircraft provided by NATO.

The Patriot missile deployment is expected to cost 25 million euros (US $32 million) and is scheduled to last until January 31, 2014.

Authorization from German parliament

ARCHIV - Bundesverteidigungsminister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) steht am 15.02.2012 im Fort Bliss in El Paso vor einer Abschussrampe des Raketensystems «Patriot». Die deutsche Regierung bereitet sich auf die Entsendung von Bundeswehrsoldaten ins türkische Grenzgebiet zu Syrien vor. De Maizière sagte am Montag (19.11.2012) in Brüssel, Deutschland werde eine Bitte der Türkei bei der Nato um «Patriot»-Flugabwehrraketen «solidarisch prüfen». Die Türkei ist in den vergangenen Wochen mehrfach von Syrien aus beschossen worden. Foto: Hannibal/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere inspecting Patriot missiles

Ahead of the debate in the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, politicians have been voicing concern that Germany's army will be unwittingly pulled into the Syrian civil war. Some foresee targeted attacks on German troops as a deliberate act of provocation on the part of Syria, for example.

Omid Nouripour of the Green Party has pleaded with German MPs that the country's armed forces be stationed at a safe distance from the Turko-Syrian border.

The Left Party has gone a step further, rejecting the deployment entirely. "It is pure madness to send 400 German soldiers into the middle of a Middle East conflict - one that could open up into a regional war at any time," said vice chairman of the Left Party Jan van Aken.

At this point the German government still has yet to unveil where, exactly, German troops might be stationed in Turkey. The NATO mandate simply includes a mild handicap stating that the positioning of those troops will "not influence Syrian airspace."

Most of the criticism of the planned military operation has come from members of the opposition parties - a sign of how the German parliament is expected to vote. A clear majority of MPs is expected to approve the deployment.

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