Panetta signs order deploying U.S. troops to Turkey-Syria border
Panetta signed the agreement as he travelled to Turkey from a trip to Afghanistan and Kuwait, where he met with various civilian and military leaders.
"The United States has been supporting Turkey in its efforts to defend itself," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. "NATO has recently offered up Patriot missile battery capability to Turkey, [which] is a very strong ally of the United States.
"I'm not going to go into precise locations at this time, but I wanted to let you...know that we signed that order and that we are prepared in the context of NATO to support the defense of Turkey for an unspecified period of time."
Little said the troops would leave for the area in the coming weeks. There, they will operate two Patriot missile batteries as part of the NATO mission.
"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," Little said.
Panetta also visited U.S. troops stationed at Incirlik Air Base, where he thanked them for their sacrifice and spending another holiday season away from their loved ones.
"Turkey also is a key NATO ally and we have a lot of U.S. forces stationed there to enhance our strong defense cooperation," Panetta said before the trip began. "Both the United States and Turkey share common concerns now about the violence in Syria and the threat that it poses to regional stability."