German backing for fight against IS rises as parliament starts debate

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2015 6:41 AM

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - German support for military involvement in the campaign against Islamic State has risen sharply with 42 percent backing action, a poll showed on Wednesday shortly before ministers make their case to parliament for a new mission.

In direct response to a French appeal for solidarity after the attacks in Paris which killed 130 people, Germany has joined other countries in stepping up its role in the military campaign against IS insurgents in Syria.

Britain's parliament is likely to vote on Wednesday to approve air strikes.

Germany, already arming Iraqi Kurds fighting IS, is stopping short of joining the United States, France and Russia in air strikes but plans to send up to 1,200 soldiers, six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate and refueling aircraft.

After cabinet approved the plans on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's ministers will open a debate in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Wednesday.

A strong majority for her "grand coalition", made up of her conservatives and the Social Democrats, means the plans are set to sail through in a vote, expected on Friday despite dissent from the pacifist Left party and some opposition Greens.

In a country that has been reluctant since World War Two to send soldiers on foreign missions, the move is significant and although 54 percent of Germans are against joining the campaign against IS, opposition is down from 68 percent in February.

The Forsa poll showed 42 percent of Germans back a role for their country in fighting IS, up from 27 percent in February. Still more surprising is that 28 percent think German fighter jets should join air strikes and 24 percent say Germany should send ground troops if needed.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has warned voters that the mission will be tough and stressed the importance of international efforts to get a political solution for Syria.

"It will be a long mission and it will be a difficult and dangerous mission. We should have no illusions about that," she warned on ARD television.

Compounding voters' fears is concern about the condition of German equipment. A defense ministry report seen by Reuters states that of Germany's 93 Tornados, only 66 were fit for use last year. But von der Leyen tried to reassure Germans, saying 30 were combat ready and only six were needed in Syria.

But Bild daily printed a picture of a captured Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by IS insurgents earlier this year. "What happens if German soldiers fall into IS hands?" it said.

Deputy editor Nikolaus Blome wrote there was no alternative to the military campaign against IS and a visible contribution from the Germany army but warned that it was risky.

"Angela Merkel is taking a big risk and is accountable."

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Toby Chopra)