Germany is withdrawing its Patriot missile systems from Turkey, marking the end of a three-year mandated mission in Turkey. Sources from the Turkish port of İskenderun reported that the Danish ship left Turkey on Tuesday carrying the Patriot missile systems. The ship is headed to Germany. Germany had deployed Patriot batteries to the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaraş in January 2013 as part of a NATO mission to counter possible threats from Syria. Germany provided two of the five NATO batteries and around 250 personnel for the three-year mission, which was scheduled to end in January 2016 according to the German government's mandate.
Recently, NATO agreed to keep Spanish Patriot missile batteries in the southern province of Adana for another year, to protect Turkey from potential threats from neighboring Syria. Commenting on the expiration of the Spanish unit's mission next month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated last week that the batteries will remain in Turkey at the request of Ankara.
He said that NATO allies are aiming to send aircraft and command ships to Turkey in an attempt to boost the country's defense capabilities. The U.K. will provide aircraft to Turkey's İncirlik Air Base in Adana while Germany and Denmark will supply command ships to NATO forces in the Mediterranean. Spain is also providing Patriot missile batteries in southern Turkey. While NATO has increased air defenses for Turkey for many years, Turkey's downing of the Russian warplane that violated its airspace on Nov. 24 has revved up NATO support.
"This is something we have been working on long before the incident and is separate from the incident," Stoltenberg told reporters following a NATO foreign ministry meeting in Brussels. "I think the focus should now be on how we can de-escalate [conflict], calm tensions and address the need for improvement and strengthen mechanisms to avoid the kinds of incidents that we saw last week," Stoltenberg said.
Russian warplanes previously violated Turkish airspace twice in October. The incidents came within a few days of the start of Russia's air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30 and led to international condemnation.
In January 2013, NATO deployed Patriot missiles along the border to shoot down any missiles fired into Turkish territory from Syria's conflict zone. Ankara had appealed to the alliance to maintain its defensive stance even before the flare-up of tensions with Russia regarding airspace violations. "We need to support Turkey," Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said upon his arrival in Brussels for meetings with his NATO peers earlier this month.
Looking to engage with Russia to defeat DAESH, Stoltenberg said that strengthening Turkish air defense was not a knee-jerk reaction to Turkey's downing of the Russian jet on Nov. 24. "We decided to address the need to support Turkey before the incident last week," he said. While the Turkish Air Force has shown that it is capable of intercepting Russian jets during bombing raids in Syria, diplomats say that sending military support to Turkey is also aimed at reassuring Ankara and calming tensions.
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