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US and Germany to recall Patriot missiles from Turkey

The move is seen as a conclusion of the US and Germany's role in a three-year NATO mission
The United States, the Netherlands and Germany each sent Patriot missile batteries to Turkey in 2012 (Creative Commons)

The United States and Germany has planned to withdraw their Patriot missile batteries from Turkey, marking an end to the three-year NATO mission aimed to help Turkey's defences against threats from Syria's civil war.

The NATO mandate for the US mission finishes in October and will not be renewed, but the US said it would return Patriot missile assets and personnel to Turkey within one week if needed, a joint Turkish-US statement said. 

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

Germany has stated it would withdraw its two Patriot missile batteries from Turkey early next year.

The Bundeswehr – Germany’s armed forces - said on its website that the mandate for the mission would run out on 31 January 2016, and plans to not be renewed.

Germany will also recall around 250 soldiers currently deployed in southeastern Turkey as part of the mission.

"Along with our NATO partners, we have protected the Turkish people from missile attacks from Syria," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was quoted as saying in the statement.

"We are ending this deployment in January 2016," she said, adding that the main threat now comes from the Islamic State group. 

She also emphasized that around 100 German military specialists would remain to train Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the northern Iraq city of Erbil and that battleships will remain in operation with other regional missions, including the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and NATO’s antiterrorist Operation Active Endeavou.

Turkey asked NATO for help after a mortar bomb fired from Syria killed five Turkish civilians in the town of Akcakale in 2012.

The United States, the Netherlands and Germany have placed six Patriots batteries along the Turkish border with Syria.

Originally used as an anti-aircraft missile, Patriots today are used to defend airspace by detecting and destroying incoming missiles. NATO deployed Patriot missiles in Turkey during the 1991 Gulf war and in 2003 during the Iraqi conflict.

Turkey is in the midst of a double "anti-terror" military campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey. The offensive against the Kurdish fighters began after a wave of attacks conducted by the PKK inside Turkey. 

Ankara launched its first air strikes against IS targets in late July but then put them on hold, instead concentrating its firepower on Kurdish militants in operations that have troubled its allies.