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NATO Reconnaissance Plane Deployment to Turkey Irks German Lawmakers

Editor’s note: This article, originally published Dec. 27, was updated Jan. 7 to clarify that German personnel make up a fraction of the crews for NATO’s planned AWACS missions in Turkey.

ANKARA, Turkey — NATO will send a force of Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) reconnaissance planes, including personnel based in Germany, to Turkey to help augment the NATO ally's airspace from potential threats from Syria.

A London-based Turkey specialist said the move aims to deter primarily Russian aggression against Turkish aircraft patrolling the country's Syria border.

"This is a message to Russia in the aftermath of the crisis," the analyst said. "It is NATO's best interests if a potential Turkish-Russian conflict is prevented."

Russia pledged to take revenge — and "not just by means of commercial sanctions" — after two Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24 on Nov. 24, citing a brief violation of the Turkish airspace along the Syrian border.

Turkish diplomats said the German military would send more troops to operate NATO’s early warning aircraft there.

In a letter to the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, the German government said NATO's AWACS aircraft would be temporarily moved to a Turkish air base in the central Anatolian province of Konya.

The plan drew ire from German politicians who said Sunday that they were not consulted.

"The government must immediately inform parliament of the details of this deployment, in particular what missions will be assigned to these planes and the destination of any data they collect," Tobias Lindner, the green party's head of defense matters, demanded in German daily Bild.

The Defence Ministry noted that the deployment was aimed at carrying out airspace surveillance, not armed operations.

The move includes a temporary relocation of the Boeing E-3 Sentry aircraft from Germany's Geilenkirchen Air Base to Konya Air Base. At least a third of the military personnel used in NATO’s AWACS missions are German, Defense News has confirmed. 

On Dec. 22, Germany withdrew its Patriot air and anti-missile defense systems from Turkish soil after a three-year-long deployment. The move came shortly after NATO agreed to strengthen efforts to protect Turkey's southern borders and airspace.

Germany, along with other NATO allies, deployed the Patriots in Turkey to help the Turkish better counter any potential missile threat from Syria.

Earlier this year, the Berlin government said it would not renew the Patriot mandate in Turkey. The German Patriots were deployed in the southeastern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras.

The German withdrawal left only Spanish Patriot systems in Turkish territory. Those missile systems are stationed in the southern province of Adana near the Incirlik military base where U.S. and allied forces carry out airstrikes against radical jihadist strongholds in Syria.

In early 2013, the Dutch, US and German missile systems were stationed in Turkey. Spanish Patriots replaced the Dutch systems early 2015.

Spain agreed to extend its Patriot mandate in Turkey to help protect the Turkish territory.

On Dec. 18, NATO allies agreed to augment Turkey's southern borders and airspace by sending aircraft and ships. The NATO assistance will include surveillance aircraft and what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as "enhanced air policing, and increased naval presence including maritime patrol aircraft."

The ships will be provided by Germany and Denmark currently exercising in the eastern Mediterranean.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.



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