German troops ‘ready for transfer’ from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase – defense minister
Germany will soon decide on relocating its troops to Al-Azrak, Jordan from Incirlik following another refusal by Ankara to allow German MPs to visit soldiers stationed there, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Monday following a futile meeting between the German and Turkish foreign ministers.
“We are prepared for a transfer,” von der Leyen announced, adding that Germany has “found a similar alternative with the Al-Azrak airport in Jordan.”
Germany’s defense chief added that the cabinet will “discuss and decide” on the move on Wednesday.
“Incirlik is a good airbase for the fight against Islamic State... but we can’t accept not being able to visit our soldiers,” she said.
Germany has currently over 250 military personnel stationed at Incirlik, following the 2015 deployment of several Tornado surveillance jets and a refueling plane at the base as part of the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
As Germany transitions to a new base, Berlin’s role in US-led anti-IS fight will have to be interrupted, von der Leyen said, adding, that Germany will do “everything in its power to keep this interruption as short as possible.”
Tensions between Berlin and Ankara have been simmering for months over a number of issues but have reached boiling point following Berlin’s decision last month to grant asylum to a number of Turkish Army officers who fled the country after the failed coup attempt last July.
In a last ditch effort to mend bilateral relations, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, flew to Turkey for discussions with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. However, the two sides failed to reach an agreement on MPs visitation privileges. The Turkish foreign minister said German MEPs are free to visit the NATO base in Konya but not the base in Incirlik.
“Turkey has made clear that, for domestic reasons, it cannot approve visits of all lawmakers,” Gabriel said after the meeting, according to DW. “I regret that, but Turkey must understand that for domestic political reasons, we must transfer German soldiers out of Incirlik.”
Cavusoglu reiterated his country’s concern about Germany’s stance on groups including the PKK and the Gulen Movement (FETO), which Ankara considers terrorists. He said Turkey may authorize the German delegation’s visit to Incirlik once relations between the two countries stabilize.
“Our friend Germany should not be the harbor of our enemies. It’s our natural right to expect our friend and ally to take more serious steps on this issue,” Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference. “If Germany takes positive steps, we will always take two steps. But we cannot ignore the current situation.”
Germany has received over 400 asylum requests in less than a year from Turkish citizens fearing persecution. Last month, Germany granted political asylum to a number of Turkish officers and their families who sought refuge following the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In Turkey, these individuals are being accused of conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government and are suspected to have links with Fethullah Gulen’s FETO. Erdogan has accused the prominent cleric and his group of masterminding the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016. The 74-year-old Gulen, once an Erdogan ally, is currently living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania in the US and has denied any involvement in the failed coup plot.