Photo/IllutrationTroops manning a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 ground-to-air missile interceptor unit prepare to withdraw from the Defense Ministry’s compound in the Ichigaya district of central Tokyo on July 30. (Hirotaka Kojo)

The Defense Ministry, citing the diminished threat of a missile strike from North Korea, removed interceptor systems deployed in four western prefectures and Hokkaido on July 30.

It deemed North Korea unlikely to stage a ballistic missile blitz in light of eased tensions following landmark summit talks in Singapore in June between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Ground-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) units were deployed in Shimane, Hiroshima, Ehime and Kochi prefectures and Hokkaido in 2017 in response to North Korean provocations.

The ministry also withdrew associated Self-Defense Forces personnel and ordered them to return to their bases.

However, it called on the SDF to remain alert to possible threats from North Korea. The order to shoot down foreign missiles remains in effect.

The ministry also lifted the deployment of troops in its compound in the Ichigaya district of central Tokyo.

North Korea launched a wave of ballistic missiles from February 2016. However, the June 12 summit between Trump and Kim led to an immediate easing of tensions.

As a result, the ministry in late June ordered troops that would operate the PAC-3 units to be ready to be deployed within 24 hours instead of being deployed around the clock.

On July 27, North Korea returned the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War (1950-1953) for the first time in 11 years, a decision warmly welcomed by Washington. That, in turn, caused the Defense Ministry to move to withdraw its PAC-3 units.

The ministry has been in a position since August 2016 to order the destruction of incoming missiles. It has also deployed one or two Aegis ships in the Sea of Japan.

After North Korea said in August 2017 it would target waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, the ministry deployed PAC-3 units to the four prefectures over which the missiles were expected to fly.

The following month it deployed a PAC-3 unit in Hakodate, Hokkaido, as North Korean missiles flew over southern Hokkaido twice, on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15.

Although the ministry withdrew those troops on July 30, it said its position that North Korea is a threat remains unchanged. It said troops can be deployed immediately if necessary.