German military mulls options if planes withdrawn from Turkish base

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 24, 2016 7:58 PM

By Andrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany still wants its military to use Turkey's Incirlik Air Base for reconnaissance flights in the fight against Islamic State but is looking for alternatives due to a dispute with Ankara, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

A ministry spokesman said the armed forces were studying other basing options for six reconnaissance planes, a refueling plane and 250 soldiers if German lawmakers vote to end the use of the base over Ankara's refusal to allow them to visit.

Turkey in June denied lawmakers access to the base, angered by a German parliamentary resolution that branded the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide.

Ties between the two NATO allies have also been strained by the thwarted coup in Turkey on July 15, with Ankara angry about what it called Germany's sluggish response in condemning the action.

A parliamentary vote to end Germany's use of Incirlik could come as soon as next month, depending on whether Ankara allows lawmakers to visit the base in October as planned. The current parliamentary mandate for the mission ends in December.

"The Bundeswehr (armed forces) would like to continue the joint fight against Islamic State from the NATO base at Incirlik," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland media group.

Such work was in the mutual interest of both countries, she said.

Asked if the military was ready for a rapid withdrawal from the base, von der Leyen said, "Smart military planning always looks at fallback options."

Turkish officials last week said they would not approve the separate visit planned by members of the German budget committee in October, but German lawmakers say they have not received a definitive answer.

The ministry spokesman said alternative potential bases had been identified in the region, but gave no details.

Der Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday that the armed forces were studying whether they could move the planes and troops to Jordan or Cyprus. Such a move would interrupt the flights for at least two months, it said.

Rainer Arnold, defense spokesman for the Social Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, government, told Reuters his party would demand an end to use of the base if Turkey refused to allow parliamentarians to visit.

"We will only send our soldiers to countries where we can be certain that we can visit them," Arnold told Reuters.

Without the SDP's approval, the government cannot extend the mission when it expires in December.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Andreas Rinke and Hans-Edzard Busemann, Editing by Angus MacSwan)