Panetta downplays military buildup on Turkey-Syria border

"I wouldn't read too much into [those] movements," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon, noting that Turkish forces continually maintained forces along its border with Syria. 


Ankara deployed a number of armored units to the Syrian border, equipped with anti-aircraft guns and self-propelled rockets on Thursday, in response to a shootdown of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet by Syrian forces, according to recent reports. 

Damascus claims the jet had flown into Syrian airspace and was warned to leave before being shot down. Anakra claims the fighter was in international airspace and was fired upon by Syrian forces without warning. 

Syria has also alleged the plan was conducting surveillance on military positions along the Turkish border, claiming the F-4 was not carrying any kind of armaments when it was taken down over the Mediterranean Ocean. 

That said, the Pentagon continues to be "in close discussions with [Turkey] with regards to how we best approach the situation in Syria," Panetta said on Friday.

In May, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter after Assad forces fired into Turkish territory in pursuit of rebels who had fled across the border.

Article 5 claims that an attack against one NATO member can be considered an attack on the entire alliance.

Invoking Article 5 could open the door for a NAO-led attack on Assad's forces, similar to the campaign that removed former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said he discussed the border buildup with Turkey's Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel, noting that Anakra is "taking a very measured approach to the incident." 

While the shootdown could increase the risk of escalation, Dempsey said Ozel assured him the buildup was not intended to goad Syria into military action.  

"I've asked them and they are not seeking to be provocative," Dempsey said of the situation. 

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is set to meet with representatives from Britain, China, France, Russia and Turkey in Geneva on Saturday to discuss the growing crisis in Syria. 

On Friday, she met with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov to try and convince Moscow to back ongoing U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to remove Syrian president Bashar Assad from power. 

Assad's troops have been waging a brutal campaign against anti-government forces in the country for months, resulting in hundreds of Syrian civilians and rebel fighters injured or dead.