The United States gave the go-ahead Friday to deploy Patriot anti-ballistic missiles to Turkey along with enough troops to operate them as the heavily embattled government in neighboring Syria again vehemently denied firing ballistic missiles at rebels.
The United States has accused Damascus of launching Scud-type artillery from the capital at rebels in the country’s north. One Washington official said missiles came close to the border of Turkey, a NATO member and staunch U.S. ally.
Syria’s government called the accusations “untrue rumors” Friday, according to state news agency SANA. Damascus accused Turkey and its partners of instigating rumors to make the government look bad internationally.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the order while en route to Turkey to send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 U.S. troops to operate them. The surface-to-air interceptors will help in “dealing with threats that come out of Syria,” Panetta said after landing at Incirlik Air Base, a U.S. Air Force installation about 80 miles from Syria’s border.
Panetta was unconcerned about possible reactions from Damascus to the Patriot deployment. “We can’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether that pisses off Syria,” he said, adamant that helping Turkey was the priority.