US troops arrive in Turkey amid escalating Syrian civil war

Operating under NATO control, roughly 27 U.S. service members arrived in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in the southern part of the country, according to CNN.


American soldiers will remain in Turkey to operate the U.S.-built Patriot missile defense systems requested from NATO by Ankara late last year. Turkish leaders asked for the missile systems in order to protect its shared border from military incursions by neighboring Syria. 

As many as 400 U.S. soldiers could end up on Turkish soil to help local forces operate the Patriot missile batteries, as well as to support Turkey's overall efforts to defend its territory, according to guidance reportedly issued by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last December. 

Despite the recent troop deployments, the White House has yet to commit to military intervention in the Syrian conflict amid concerns American weapons and support could find their way into the hands of Islamic militant groups fighting alongside Syrian rebel forces. 

For over a year, rebel fighters in the country have battled forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad in a steadily escalating civil war, which has now claimed upwards of 60,000 lives.

As a result, thousands of Syrian civilians have streamed across the border into Turkey over the past few months in an attempt to escape the carnage. 

Syrian forces have also been involved in small skirmishes repeatedly along the border in an attempt to kill anti-Assad rebels fleeing the country into Turkey.

Tensions between Turkey and Syria over the escalating violence reached a boiling point last year when Anakra authorized its military forces to take action against Assad's troops if the internal fighting spill across the border. 

The order came shortly after Syrian troops lobbed mortar rounds into the Turkish border town of Akçakale last October, killing five and wounding nine in the attack, according to news reports. 

After that attack, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered a counterattack against positions inside Syria, according to reports. 

Last May, Erdoğan threatened to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter after Assad forces again fired into Turkish territory in pursuit of rebel fighters. 

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

In June, Ankara amassed several armored units along the Syrian border, equipped with anti-aircraft guns and self-propelled rockets, in response to the downing of the Turkish F-4.