The first of six Patriot batteries being deployed by NATO along Turkey’s border with Syria was declared operational on Saturday, the alliance said in a statement.
The battery “was declared operational and placed under the command and control of NATO on Saturday, 26 January,” NATO said on its website. “The other five batteries are expected to be in place and operational in the coming days.”
The alliance reiterated that the deployment was for defense purposes only and “will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.”
NATO agreed in December to station two units from each of the three NATO partners (Germany, the Netherlands, and the US) at the request of its member Turkey, after Syrian shelling along the border killed five Turkish civilians in October.
NATO approved the Patriot batteries deployment on December 4, 2012, after a request filed by Turkey. Russia has repeatedly protested the move, warning that it would mean the direct involvement of NATO forces in the Syrian conflict, further undermining the already unstable situation in the region.
Turkey maintains that it needs the batteries to shore up security on its 900-kilometer (560 mile) border with Syria. Damascus is believed to have several hundred surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads.