US Army commander in Europe Lt. Gen. Mark Phillip Hertling has reportedly declared that American forces are manning the radar system in Turkey’s eastern province of Malatya.
"I can only speak for the ground base air defense units, but I will tell you that we make constant coordination (with the US Navy and Air Force), and I think we are well on track to conduct missile defense," Hertling said in an interview on February 26.
Turkish activists have held many demonstrations across the country since Ankara expressed readiness to host the NATO missile system in the eastern province of Malatya in September.
Some leading Turkish politicians and lawmakers have cautioned that the system will not be beneficial to Turkey and will only serve interests of the Israeli regime.
The stationing of the US-sponsored radar system in Turkey was hailed by American officials as the most significant military cooperation between the US and Turkey since 2003, when Turkey refused to allow a US armored division to cross Turkish territory to join the military invasion of Iraq from the north.
The system has been promoted by US and its European allies as part of a broader NATO “missile defense shield” in Europe that will place Iran and Russia within the range of US missiles.
The other components of the so-called defense shield in Europe include anti-ballistic missile systems located in Romania and Poland, warships equipped with anti-ballistic defense facilities in Spain and an operational headquarters located in Germany.
Turkey says no country has been singled out as a threat in its agreement with NATO to host the radar system.
The US-led missile system has provoked strong criticism from Russia, claiming that the system is not defensive and is aimed at Russian soil.
Last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to challenge the establishment of the missile system in Europe by strengthening the Russian army.
Putin also said that Russia will spend $770 billion in the next decade to upgrade its weapons and military equipment. He added that Russia must counter the system by expanding its airspace defense systems in addition to developing the country’s strategic nuclear weapons.
In late November, 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that a new missile early warning system be activated in Kaliningrad, a Baltic region bordering European Union countries, in response to US plans for a missile shield in Europe.