Germany’s cabinet on Wednesday backed the withdrawal of troops from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, the German defence minister said, following Ankara’s refusal to allow German lawmakers access to its soldiers there.
Germany plans to move the 280 German soldiers to an air base in Jordan but has stressed it wants to minimise any disruption to the US-led coalition operation against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, of which it is part.
Turkey has refused to allow German lawmakers to make a routine visit to the base, saying that Berlin needs to improve its attitude towards Turkey first.
Turkey was infuriated when Germany, citing security concerns, banned some Turkish politicians from campaigning on its soil. Ankara responded by accusing Berlin of “Nazi-like” tactics and has since reignited a row over Incirlik.
“Given that Turkey is currently not in a position to allow German parliamentarians the right to visit Incirlik, the cabinet today agreed to move the Bundeswehr from Incirlik to Jordan,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.
Lawmakers are still discussing whether the proposed withdrawal should be put to a parliamentary vote. German armed forces are subordinated to parliament, not the government, meaning lawmakers have oversight of the troops.
Von der Leyen said she would hold immediate talks with the US military and the US-led coalition fighting IS to minimise the impact of the move and would set the timetable accordingly. She will brief cabinet and parliament next week.
She has said withdrawing German refuelling aircraft would take two to three weeks, and the relocation of reconnaissance jets two to three months.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was in Turkey on Monday in a last attempt to convince Ankara to avert a pullout, but said Turkey had once again refused the visits for “domestic political reasons.”
He said he had wanted to avoid further hurting ties with Turkey and pushing it towards Russia.
Critics have accused Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces an election in September, of cosying up to Erdogan to secure his help in stemming the flow of migrants to western Europe.
Ankara reacted angrily to German concerns over a domestic crackdown after a failed coup attempt last July, and relations were further tested by Turkey’s jailing of a German-Turkish journalist.