Pentagon press secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order Friday.
“The secretary, as we are en route to Turkey, has signed an order that will deploy some 400 US personnel to Turkey to support two Patriot missile batteries,” Little told reporters. We expect them to be deployed in the coming weeks.”
The order calls for 400 US soldiers to operate two batteries of Patriots at undisclosed locations in Turkey, Little told reporters flying with Panetta.
Turkey is a founding member of NATO and requested that the alliance provide Patriots. They will be sent by NATO members Germany and the Netherlands as well as the US for an undetermined period.
During a brief stop at Incirlik Air Base, Panetta told US troops that Turkey might need the Patriots, which are capable of shooting down shorter-range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.
He said he approved the deployment “so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need to deal with the threats coming out of Syria,” he said.
Panetta did not mention how soon the two Patriot batteries will head to Turkey or how long they might stay.
The decision comes as the US has been weighing whether to intervene more strongly in the Syrian conflict.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has denounced the recent international frenzy over the hypothetical use of chemical weapons by its army, saying that the issue could be used as a pretext for foreign military intervention in Syria.