Dutch troops "lack experience" on Patriot missiles in Turkey

AMSTERDAM Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:24am IST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Some of the Dutch troops due to man Patriot missile batteries on Turkey's border with Syria are inadequately trained in the weapon systems, largely due to spending cuts, a trade union official said on Wednesday.

The Dutch Defence Ministry denied the assertion.

Turkey asked NATO for Patriots, designed to intercept aircraft or missiles, in November to bolster security after fighting in Syria spilled into Turkish territory.

Next month up to 360 Dutch army and air force troops will be posted on the border, near where Syrian rebels have battled government troops backed by combat jets and helicopters.

The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are the only three NATO members with advanced Patriot missile technology.

As many as 400 German personnel, 170 of them Patriot missile specialists, are going to Turkey, while the United States is sending 400. No concerns have been raised about the training levels of the German and U.S. units to be deployed.

"About 20 percent of those going have no experience with these systems," said Wim van den Burg, chairman of AFPM, the largest military trade union, referring to the Dutch.

"There are concerns that they will not be ready when the situation heats up and they need to use these rockets."

The Dutch merged the air force and the army last year and Defence Ministry spokesman Jos van der Leij said the army soldiers had received sufficient training for the purpose.

"We would not send out our people on a mission without proper training," he said. "The army personnel have been trained in using air defence systems. The people sitting at the controls of these systems have been trained to do that."

But Van den Burg, whose union represents roughly 25,000 Dutch personnel, said none of the army troops on the mission had actually fired a Patriot missile, unlike their air force counterparts. That has led to worries that they will not stand up to the pressure of working in a conflict zone, he said.

"The consequences could be grave if they are unable to use the systems when the time comes and they are really needed. That would be morally unjustifiable," he said.

Van den Burg blamed deep government spending cuts for the alleged training deficiencies and for what he said was pressure on troops to go on longer field deployments.

The stationing of Dutch, German and American Patriot batteries in Turkey has angered neighbouring Iran, whose military chief told an Iranian news agency at the weekend that it risks escalating the Syrian conflict into a world war. (Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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