A German Patriot missile system. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
NATO is reportedly looking at ending its deployment of air defense units on the Syrian border, prompting objections from Ankara.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands are considering ending their deployment of Patriot missile batteries by the end of the year. The systems were deployed in January 2013 in response to the intensified fighting there. The fighting, of course, has not died down, but the threat of a chemical attack has diminished. That, in combination with the fact that the soldiers from Germany and the Netherlands who operate the systems have been overstretched by the long deployment, have led to the reconsideration of the mission, Der Spiegel's sources said.
But Turkey isn't ready for them to go. “Turkey thinks that such a move doesn't serve relations between allies,” one Turkish foreign ministry official told Today's Zaman. Another diplomatic source told Hurriyet Daily News, "At a moment when there are serious security problems [in the region], a decision to withdraw these systems from Turkey would be inappropriate and unsuitable to the [values of our] alliance."
And German officials have denied the report. A German military spokesman told reporters that there have been routine reviews, and that the most recent one "concluded that the level of threat had been decreased with the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons but, on the other hand, the rest of the risks remained unchanged" and that "if they would need us, and if there would be a demand, we can extend the mission for another two years." A report from last year on the U.S. Patriot operators in Turkey, though, noted the strain of the deployment. From the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes:
While the Americans’ primary mission is to defend Gaziantep from ballistic missiles, the unit keeps its eyes out for any aerial threat to the city of 1.5 million. That means 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operations, troops say. The unit’s heightened state of alert requires round-the-clock duty, an unprecedented pace of work for an air defense unit, according to troops assigned to the battalion.
The primary challenge is keeping all the pieces working under the heavy strain. Each Patriot launcher — there are 12 on site — comes with its own high-powered generators that are unaccustomed to around-the-clock activation. That has meant long hours for unit technicians, whose deployment has been marked by a constant monitoring, tweaking and cleaning of the system to keep it up and running.
And that's the U.S., which presumably has more Patriot operators to go around (the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands have each been operating two Patriot batteries in Turkey). Anyway, Der Spiegel said that its sources said a final decision would be made by the upcoming NATO summit in Wales.