BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will join the military campaign against Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Syria under plans approved on Tuesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet — a big step for a major European power that long resisted a direct role in the conflict.
Responding to a French appeal after the Nov. 13 IS attacks in Paris which killed 130 people, Merkel’s government agreed to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets, refueling aircraft, a frigate to protect a French aircraft carrier and up to 1,200 military personnel to the region for a year.
Provided the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) approves the plans, two Tornados could be sent to the Incirlik air base in Turkey next week, though flights can only start in January for technical reasons, a defense ministry spokesman said.
Germany, which is already arming Iraqi Kurds fighting Islamic State, will not join France, the United States and Russia in conducting air strikes in Syria. But its contribution is significant given the country’s post-World War Two history of avoiding foreign military entanglements and voter misgivings about getting involved in the conflict in the Middle East.
The government said the deployment, which will cost 134 million euros ($142.51 million), was meant to prevent “terrorist acts” by IS and back France and others in the fight against the jihadist group, which has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. “IS poses a threat to world peace and international security,” said Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen sought to reassure voters, saying that Germany had not been drawn into war against its will but had taken a conscious decision to get involved.
She also made clear that there would be no cooperation between German forces and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The top line is: there will be no cooperation with Assad and no cooperation with troops under his command,” she said, though she did not rule out including supporters of Assad in a long-term solution for Syria.
“We must avoid the collapse of the state of Syria,” she said, noting that mistakes made in Iraq, when groups who had been loyal to dictator Saddam Hussein were shut out of the political system after his defeat, prompting the widespread disintegration of state order, should not be repeated.
The Bundestag will debate the issue on Wednesday and a vote is expected later in the week. The motion looks set to pass given the broad majority held by Merkel’s “grand coalition” of conservatives and Social Democrats.
Lawmakers from the pacifist Left party have warned that the government is raising the risk of an attack on German soil by joining the mission. They will vote against it and challenge the deployment in court. Some members of the opposition Greens also have reservations.
“This deployment is combustible and politically and militarily wrong. Showing solidarity with France cannot mean undertaking something that’s wrong,” said Greens lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, adding he feared more civilian victims.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, told Bild daily that patience was needed and, pointing to the ongoing Syria peace talks in Vienna, stressed that a political process for Syria’s long-term future was essential.
“Bombs and rockets alone will not conquer terror, that will only happen though politics,” he told Bild.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin/Mark Heinrich