Panetta Orders US Missiles, Boots on the Ground Along Syrian Border
Warnings of blowback as US Secretary of Defense sends US weapon systems to increasingly unstable region
Amid a deepening involvement by the US in the ongoing civil war in Syria, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced he has ordered the deployment of two Patriot missile batteries and 400 US soldiers to Turkey as part of a wider NATO effort to militarize the border between the two countries.
Panetta signed the order shortly before an unannounced visit to the country on Friday. Speaking from the US Air Base in Incirlik, he said: "We are deploying two Patriot batteries here to Turkey along with the troops that are necessary to man those batteries."
As The New York Times reports, Panetta told the gathered personnel at Incirlik that the US "was working with Turkey, Jordan and Israel to monitor Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons, and warned of 'serious consequences' if Syria used them, but he did not offer any specifics."
"We have drawn up plans for presenting to the president," Mr. Panetta said. "We have to be ready."
The recent reports about Syria's possession of or intent to use "chemical weapons" has reminded many of bogus claims by the US about Iraq's stockpiles of similar weapons that were used to goad the American public into the invasion of that country in 2003.
As FAIR's Peter Hart chronicled this week:
U.S. officials were confident about a number of things before the invasion of Iraq–most of which were not true. The Syria stories in fact most closely resemble stories in 2003 that alleged that Saddam Hussein had established a "red line" around Baghdad: If U.S. troops were to cross that line, Iraq would deploy chemical weapons.
More than anything, as the US moves troops into the region, where border hostilities could well escalate, the increasing worry is that rhetoric about Syria's chemical weapons would be used as a pretext for military intervention by US forces or NATO.
Friday's announcement was not a surprise, as NATO had previously approved the placement of Patriot missiles along Turkey's southern border. In addition to the two US batteries, both Germany and the Netherlands will send troops and missiles of their own.
Earlier this week, the US formally recognized the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition force to Syian President Bashar al-Assad's government. That move also raised concerns that the US was deepening its involvement in the civil war even as factions within those opposition forces are deeply hostile to the US.
The blowback from all of these decisions are drawing concern from experts on the region, who fear that by ignoring a diplomatic and political solution to the crisis in Syria while increasing the flow of weapons to the region is a recipe for a further, if unpredictable, escalation of violence.
Professor Paul Rogers, explaining the intricacies of the rebel forces and role of previous US blunders in the region, wrote on Thursday:
Washington's diplomatic recognition and terrorist designation aim to separate these radical elements from the main body of the rebels. In all probability, though, they are too embedded in the overall insurgency for this to be done. Moreover, their clear paramilitary capabilities mean they will be well placed to help ensure that, if and when the Assad regime falls, the aftermath will be an unstable and insecure Syria.
One consequence of the western-aided overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya was the exit of Tuareg mercenaries to Mali, where they established control over much of the country's north - only to be displaced by Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups. This example of an unanticipated “blowback” may well yet lead to western involvement in a war in Mali (see "Mali, preparing for war", 15 November 2012).
In Syria there is another form of blowback underway - this time a direct consequence of the Iraq war. It is likely to prove to be an immense complication in any western attempt to determine what happens in Syria if the Assad regime finally falls some time in 2013.