US to withdraw Patriot missiles from Turkey
ISTANBUL - Turkey and United States said on Sunday that Washington would withdraw its Patriot missile batteries from the country in October after bolstering Ankara's air defences against threats from Syria's civil war.
The NATO mandate for the two-year mission will run out in October and will not be renewed, but the US is prepared to return Patriot 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 defense force remains capable of countering evolving global threats and protecting Allies and partners, including Turkey," the statement said.
It also emphasised that Washington remains committed to "support Turkey's air defense capabilities, including against ballistic missile risks and threats."
The move comes as Turkey and the US are preparing to jointly launch coordinated cross-border operations against Islamic State (IS) targets in northern Syria.
The US and Turkish officials have said that the military from the two sides is currently working to coordinate logistics and once it is completed, full-scale operations against IS would start.
Turkey turned to its NATO allies for help over its troubled frontier after shells landed on its border areas from Syria in October 2012, killing several villagers.
The United States, the Netherlands and Germany have provided a total of six Patriots batteries along the Turkish border with Syria. Germany on Saturday also said it would withdraw its two missiles from Turkey early next year.
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 currently pressing a two-pronged "anti-terror" offensive against IS jihadists in Syria and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey following a wave of attacks inside the country.
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.