US setting up Patriot missiles near Turkish-Syrian border
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Hours before a convoy of trucks was slated to arrive at the Turkish army base here, U.S. Army Maj. Ryan Schrock faced a logistical challenge.
Nearly 100 trucks carrying everything from water and MREs to multimillion-dollar Patriot missiles needed a place to unload, but there were few good options.
“This is bad,” Schrock said Thursday as he surveyed a muddy, makeshift road. “I’m in a single lane here. We’re going to bottleneck.”
Schrock and his Turkish counterpart scouted out an alternate route, improvising on a military post not accustomed to the heavy equipment that comes with a Patriot missile defense system.
“It’s 90 percent logistical and 10 percent operational,” said Schrock, the executive officer for the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery based out of Fort Sill, Okla.
For nearly a month, Schrock has been leading a small team of troops in Gaziantep while the rest of his battalion has been on standby at Incirlik Air Base. The rest of the unit, which soon will be taking up residence in Gaziantep, is part of NATO’s effort to provide air defense support to Turkey. While Patriot batteries from Germany and the Netherlands are already operating at other locations in Turkey, a bureaucratic logjam has slowed the U.S. effort.
However, U.S. officials still say they expect soon to have soldiers in place and at least one battery up and running.
“We expect to be operational in the coming days,” said Capt. Royal Reff, a spokesman for the U.S. Patriot mission.
Reff, however, declined to say what if any progress has been made on a bilateral agreement being worked on by U.S. and Turkish officials. The Netherlands and Germany have already reached deals on their respective agreements, which involve a range of issues such as force protection and specifications for base infrastructure, according to NATO.
T.J. Grubisha, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, also declined to comment on the bilateral talks between the U.S. and Turkey.
“I have no information about that,” Grubisha said. The deployment is “proceeding as planned,” he said.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R.-Va., in Turkey with other lawmakers, said Turkish red tape was the reason for the delay.
But there has been some progress.
Reff said one battery of troops, who have been on standby at Incirlik, will rotate to Gaziantep on Saturday along with the battalion’s headquarters and the unit’s Patriot equipment that’s been stored there. Meanwhile, on Thursday, truckloads of gear, which arrived in Turkey by sea transport a day earlier, were convoyed to Gaziantep.
In December, NATO defense ministers authorized the deployment of Patriots in response to Turkish concerns over cross-border shelling from Syria in October that killed several Turkish citizens.
Turkish authorities are now racing to get the base into condition to accommodate both the troops and the Patriots that will soon be operating there.
Construction crews are working to get the barracks into living condition for the U.S. soldiers. “We are working 24 hours a day,” said Ömer Zop, the engineer for the barracks project.
Work on the building began about one week ago and it must be completed by Feb. 10, Turkish officials said. The building had to be gutted, with new plumbing, wiring and walls.
“It was not originally made for this many people to live here,” said Capt. Selim Cakici, a Turkish public affairs officer in Gaziantep.
Troops will be staying in temporary quarters until the work is finished, Reff said.
Work also continues on the site where one of two deployed U.S. Patriot batteries will be set up. Gravel still needs to be put down, but work should be finished in about a week, Cakici said. The other site is finished and ready for Patriots to be put into position, he said.
Cakici said the Turkish military is doing what it can to get the site ready for the Americans and their Patriots.
“They are the experts,” Cakici said. “They forward their requirements to us and we try to meet them.”