A new land command for NATO was activated on Friday in the western Turkish province of İzmir, assuming the responsibilities of two ground forces commands located in other countries to become the only such NATO command center.
“NATO has trusted in Turkey in every step since its membership. Likewise, Turkey can always trust in NATO,” Supreme allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis said at the ceremony, which was also attended by of Aegean Army Corps commander Gen. Abdullah Atay of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), İzmir Governor Cahit Kıraç and US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone.
Stavridis stated that the establishment of the Allied Land Command in İzmir holds symbolic meaning. “İzmir has been the junction of cultures for centuries. Ultimately, NATO is a bridge connecting 28 countries as allies,” he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
İzmir previously hosted NATO's Allied Air Command, but the 28-nation alliance decided to transform it into its only land command headquarters in 2011 as part of reforms aimed at cutting costs and duplication. Before the restructuring into the single land forces command headquarters in İzmir, NATO had two land forces commands: one in Heidelberg, Germany, and another near Madrid, Spain.
NATO has also trimmed its major bases from 11 to seven as part of the reforms to its command structure. The alliance earlier deactivated a command center in the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir when restructuring its command bases in 2009.
The Turkish General Staff has issued a statement explaining that the land command in İzmir will be one of NATO's three main command headquarters, operating under the Allied Command Operations (ACO) in Mons, Belgium. It said that NATO ultimately decided to keep one of its important, effective headquarters in Turkey.
The land forces command in İzmir will be operational as of today.
The activation of the new land forces command comes as NATO is set to deploy Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey's border with Syria. Speaking during the ceremony, NATO Allied Land Commander Lt. Gen. Frederick Ben Hodges said he expects a team of NATO experts to conclude their site survey for the possible deployment of the missiles within a few days.