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By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, Dec. 14, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has signed an order that will deploy 400 U.S. personnel to Turkey to support the deployment that NATO agreed to recently of Patriot missile capability there, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Panetta signed the agreement en route to Turkey as he wrapped up a trip this week that included time in Kuwait and Afghanistan with civilian and military leaders.
He visited the troops to thank them for their dedication and sacrifice, and for spending another holiday season away from family and friends.
While in Kabul the secretary also met with Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF regional commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“The United States has been supporting Turkey in its efforts to defend itself,” Little said. “NATO has recently offered up Patriot missile battery capability to Turkey, [which] is a very strong ally of the United States.”
Little said he expects the troops to be deployed in the coming weeks.
“I’m not going to go into precise locations at this time, he added, “but I wanted to let you … know that we signed that order and that we are prepared in the context of NATO to support the defense of Turkey for an unspecified period of time.”
The personnel will deploy to Turkey to operate two U.S. Patriot missile batteries once they are in place, he said.
“The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria,” Little said.
Incirlik Air Base is an installation of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, a major command of the U.S. Air Force and the air component of the U.S. European Command, a DOD unified command.
“Turkey also is a key NATO ally and we have a lot of U.S. forces stationed there to enhance our strong defense cooperation,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him as the trip began.
“Both the United States and Turkey share common concerns now about the violence in Syria and the threat that it poses to regional stability, he added.
Panetta said DOD has been working closely with Turkey on humanitarian issues, chemical and biological weapons issues, and missile defense.
“I’m pleased that last week NATO pledged to deploy missile defense systems to protect Turkey, and we will participate in that effort as well,” the secretary said.
Panetta said the United States and Turkey are committed to work together to strengthen defense systems and to put pressure on the Assad regime in neighboring Syria to end the violence in that country and help develop the political transition that must take place there.