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US to pull Patriot missiles from Turkey

August 16, 2015

Ankara and Washington have said the US will pull Patriot missile batteries from Turkey in October, but is ready to return them at short notice if needed. Germany made a similar announcement a day earlier.

US soldiers near a Patriot missile system in Gaziantep, Turkey
Image: Reuters/Osman Orsal

The US Patriot missile batteries, which had been in Turkey as part of a NATO mission whose mandate runs out in October, would be deployed to the United States for upgrades, a joint Turkish-US statement said on Sunday.

"They will be redeployed to the US for critical modernization upgrades that will ensure the US missile defense force remains capable of countering evolving global threats and protecting allies and partners, including Turkey," the statement said.

It added that the "United States and NATO are committed to supporting Turkey's security and regional security," and that the US was "prepared to return Patriot assets and personnel to Turkey within one week" if needed.

An unnamed US defense official also stressed that NATO was still committed to helping Turkey defend its air space.

"[The move] does not reflect a decision by the NATO alliance to reduce support for Turkey's air defense," the official told AFP news agency.

The decision comes less than a month after Turkey gave permission to US fighter jets to use its air bases to launch air strikes against the jihadist "Islamic State" ("IS") group in Syria.

'Changed threat'

The announcement follows one by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday that Berlin would not seek parliamentary approval to extend its three-year Patriot mission, which runs out in January.

Von der Leyen said Germany would withdraw its two missile systems on January 31, as the main threat to Turkey was now from "IS," and no longer from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose country remains embroiled in a civil war.

In a statement on the Defense Ministry's website, she said that Germany would "remain engaged in the region in a continued effort to stabilize it."

The decision, however, follows criticism by some German officials of Turkey's military crackdown on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq amid a two-pronged "anti-terror" offensive that originally also targeted "IS" positions in Syria.

Germany, the United States and the Netherlands all deployed Patriots to Turkey in early 2013 after Ankara asked its NATO allies for assistance in countering the threat posed by the escalating civil war over the border in Syria. The request came after several shells from the conflict landed on its border areas, killing several villagers.

When the Dutch mission ended earlier this year, it was replaced by a Spanish one.

Patriots are used to defend airspace by detecting and destroying incoming missiles.

tj/sgb (AFP, Reuters)