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VREDEPEEL, Netherlands (Reuters) - The German military on Wednesday put a short-range air defence unit with about 450 soldiers under Dutch command, further deepening ties between the two NATO allies.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen lauded the unique nature of the closer bilateral cooperation, which began in 1995 with the creation of a multinational formation that takes part in NATO readiness rotations.
"We share common values and interests, believe in our European future, and are strong partners in the trans-Atlantic alliance," von der Leyen said during a ceremony marking the latest tie-up between the two countries' militaries.
"We want to tap into synergies to improve our existing capabilities and build up new ones."
Brigadier General Michael Gschossmann, commander of ground-based units for the German air force, said last week the move was politically significant and could pave the way for joint development of new weapons and joint operation of longer-range missile defence systems such as the Patriot.
Germany and other European countries are racing to expand defence cooperation, citing perceived U.S. isolationism under President Donald Trump and the threat posed by Russia as well as instability in Africa and the Middle East.
The German and Dutch militaries have already knitted together some land forces and naval elements, train together on missile defence, and have developed a joint concept of operations for missile defence forces.
Wednesday's move marks the first expansion of those ties to include the German air forces.
The German unit will be under Dutch control, but its troops will remain based in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, responsible for the ground-based Mantis system used to protect military sites from artillery and rocket attacks.
For possible overseas missions, the German unit will revert to German control or, if both countries agree, it could be deployed together with its Dutch counterpart. Some elements of the unit are currently deployed in Mali as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force there, military officials said.
Germany has closer military ties with the Netherlands than any other European Union country. The Dutch military put some 2,000 paratroopers under German control in 2014, and the two countries linked up their tank divisions two years later.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Mark Heinrich)