GERMANY said on Thursday it was looking into moving fighter jets from Turkey, with reports suggesting Cyprus or Jordan, amid souring relations with Ankara over the German parliament’s recognition of the expulsion and murder of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a genocide.
The German defence ministry confirmed that the armed forces were studying other basing options for six reconnaissance planes, a refuelling plane and 250 soldiers if German lawmakers vote to end the use of the base over Ankara’s refusal to allow them to visit.
A parliamentary vote to end Germany’s use of Incirlik base 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.”
The ministry spokesman said alternative potential bases had been identified in the region, but gave no details.
According to Spiegel Online, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has called for a withdrawal from Incirlik, used in the fight against the so-called Islamic State.
The parliamentary mandate for use expires in December. Without the votes of the SPD the German mission in Turkey cannot be extended.
SPD’s demand followed Turkey’s ban on a visit at Incirlik by state secretary Ralf Brauksiepe, and a media trip later on.
A German parliament defence committee meeting planned for September was also denied, Spiegel said.
According to Spiegel, the country’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have looked into moving its Tornado fighter jets and tanker aircraft from Turkey to Jordan or Cyprus.
However, both bases were found to have many disadvantages, on top of the two-month interruption that would be required for the move.
It would also mean disconnecting from the Americans who lead the coalition against IS.
Feeding reconnaissance images directly into coalition systems would be impossible from the new locations while aircraft maintenance would be more complicated and expensive than in Turkey.
While (Germany’s) defence ministry declined to provide details on the plan, it indirectly confirmed it, Spiegel said.
“We would gladly continue operating as part of the coalition from Turkey; but the Incirlik base is not the only available alternative for our mission,” von der Leyen told the paper.
The foreign ministry said that there had been “no change” in Turkey’s position of rejecting visits of German lawmakers (at Incirlik).
The Cyprus government did not respond officially to the reports but citing unnamed senior defence ministry sources, Sigmalive reported that Germany had lodged no formal request to the government to use an air base on the island.
Cyprus’ long-standing policy is to provide facilities to its allies within the framework of treaties, the same sources said. France and Germany already use the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos for refuelling, evacuation operations, and technical service.
Providing these facilities, the defence sources said, served to upgrade Cyprus’ role in the eastern Mediterranean.
But such facilities are provided for the purposes of training and military drills, and under no circumstances for the use of bases in Cyprus for military operations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said later on Thursday that Berlin was in discussions with Turkey to ensure that the German military can keep flying reconnaissance missions from Incirlik. She said she expected the German military to continue operating effectively from the NATO base despite threats by some German lawmakers to end the mission unless Ankara allows them to visit the base. Merkel said such visits were vital given that German lawmakers authorise military missions.
“I expect that missions of the anti-IS coalition will continue to be able to be flown from Incirlik,” Merkel told reporters during a visit to Prague. “Part of that, given that we have a parliamentary army, is that German lawmakers must be allowed to visit Incirlik if they want to.”