UPDATE 1-Syrian Scuds land near Turkish border -NATO

Adrian Croft
Reuters Middle East

* NATO commander says Syria situation "chaotic, dangerous"

* NATO concerned because Scuds can carry chemical warheads

BRUSSELS, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Several Scud missiles fired at

rebels by Syria have landed "fairly close" to the Turkish

border, NATO's top military commander said on Friday in a blog

explaining why Patriot anti-missile batteries are being deployed

to Turkey.

The comments by U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme

Allied Commander Europe, were the first to confirm that Scuds

have come down near the border of Turkey, a NATO member state.

Stavridis also described the situation in Syria as "chaotic

and dangerous".

U.S. and NATO officials said on Wednesday that Syrian

President Bashar al-Assad's forces had fired Scud-style

ballistic missiles at rebels in recent days in what U.S.

officials described as an escalation of the 20-month civil war.

"Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were

launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition

targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border,

which is very worrisome," Stavridis wrote. ()

Syria on Thursday denied it had used Scud missiles in its

fight against what it calls "terrorist groups".

Stavridis voiced particular concern about Scuds because they

can be fitted with chemical warheads. Syria is known to possess

chemical weapons.

"Given a number of recent cross-border incidents with

artillery and mortars landing in Turkey and killing Turkish

civilians, we are concerned with possible Scud missile activity

inside Syria. Scuds ... are particularly worrisome because they

can carry chemical payloads," he said.

Turkey has scrambled jets along its frontier with Syria and

responded in kind when shells from Syria landed inside its

borders. If any Scuds strayed over the border into Turkish

territory, it could carry the risk of spreading the conflict.

Ankara twice this year has invoked Article 4 of the NATO

charter which provides for consultations when a member state

feels its security is threatened.


NATO agreed last week to Turkey's request to send Patriots

to reinforce its air defences against possible missile attack

from Syria. The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are

to send six Patriot batteries in all.

"Syria is clearly a chaotic and dangerous situation; but we

have an absolute obligation to defend the borders of the

alliance from any threat emanating from that troubled state,"

Stavridis wrote.

The alliance said sending Patriots was purely defensive and

that it has no intention of intervening in Syria, but Russia

said it was a step towards NATO involvement in the war.

Stavridis said the Patriots would help defend "the

population centres in southern Turkey" and he said he would

retain "operational command responsibility" for the Patriots.

"I anticipate we'll begin moving the systems toward Turkey

very soon, and hope to have systems in place in the coming weeks

after final national decisions are made and assets are allocated

to NATO Command," he said.

The Netherlands, which is sending two Patriot batteries and

up to 360 personnel to operate them, expects its missiles to be

operational by the end of January, Dutch Prime Minister Mark

Rutte said on Thursday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order on

Friday to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey with 400

American personnel. {ID:nL5E8NE3PK]

Also on Friday, Germany's lower house of parliament approved

the sending of two Patriot batteries and 400 soldiers to Turkey

as part of the NATO plan.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes