A US official has confirmed that Turkey has requested that the US deploys the Patriot air defence system in the country in the face of Syrian regime airstrikes.
Turkish Armed Forces have come under direct fire from Syrian regime airstrikes as combat between the two escalated, with Syrian Government Forces advancing on areas where Turkish forces have been deployed since the US wound down its operations in the region.
On Thursday, Turkish officials said that two Turkish soldiers were killed in airstrikes in Idlib, Northern Syria. In total, 15 Turkish personnel have been killed in February in combat with Syrian government-backed forces.
A US official confirmed to Air Force Technology that a request for the deployment of Patriot had been made, but that the US had yet to decide whether to deploy the system.
The official said: “We are aware of a request for Patriot missiles in Turkey near the Syrian border, but no decision has been made. We continue to have discussions with the government of Turkey about the troubling situation in Idlib. We refer you to the Turkish government for further details.”
The US and Turkey, while allies within NATO, have been at odds since Ankara decided to acquire the Russian-made S-400 air defence system, resulting in the US ejecting Turkey from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 programme. The US said that Turkey’s decision to acquire the missile system jeopardised Turkey’s use of the fighter, saying the two systems were incompatible.
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The US made repeated interventions on Turkey’s road to acquiring the S-400, threatening removal from the F-35 programme and the possibility of economic sanctions.
Air Force Technology understands that Russian forces have been supporting the Syrian regime forces with airstrikes; however, it remains unclear whether Russian support had been aimed at Turkish forces or other Syrian rebel groups in the area.
The issue came to a head at last December’s NATO leaders meeting when, at a supporting event, NATO Engages, Gulnur Aybet, a senior adviser to Turkey’s president defended the decision to opt for the Russian system amid growing concern that Turkey was leaning towards closer ties with Russia.
At the time Aybet said that Turkey had a ‘pragmatic’ relationship with Russia, but signalled that Turkey may be open to a change, of course, saying: “It (S-400) fulfils this gap in our defence systems for the time being but it’s not the end of the road.”
However, at the time RUSI research fellow and editor of RUSI Defence Systems Justin Bronk challenged the Turkish narrative saying: “Essentially, the Turkish defence of their S-400 purchase on the grounds that Patriot was denied to them, and there is a pressing military need for an alternate system as a result, simply doesn’t add up.
“Leaving aside the fact that various versions of Patriot were offered to Turkey, just not full technology transfer– which is fair enough the S-400 system is incompatible with a national air and missile defence requirement because it cannot be connected to NATO systems.”