German govt approves withdrawal of troops from Incirlik base in Turkey

German govt approves withdrawal of troops from Incirlik base in Turkey
The German cabinet has given the green light to withdraw the nation’s troops from Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. The parliament is yet to approve the end of the deployment.

The move comes after Berlin failed to negotiate a resolution to ongoing tensions with Ankara, which was obstructing inspections of the Turkish base by German MPs. Parliamentary oversight over foreign deployment of German troops is strongly endorsed in the country’s law.

“Incirlik is a good airbase for the fight against Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS], but we cannot accept not being able to visit our soldiers,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday, as cited by Deutsche Welle.

Germany has six Tornado fighter jets, a tanker used for refueling and some 280 personnel stationed at the Turkish base. The deployment was approved by the German parliament in 2016, in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris in December 2015.

The Defense Ministry plans to relocate the forces to Jordan, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen reiterated on Wednesday, after the cabinet made its decision. She said she will order the relocation “immediately,” Die Welt reports.

Von der Leyen said the relocation to Jordan would take some time. That would mean a two-to-three-month break for Tornado missions and two to three weeks for the refueling.

The German defense minister said that the Germans “have been very patient with Turkey,” but that the time has come to relocate the troops.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that it’s important that Berlin and Ankara continue to communicate.

"We have a huge range of common interests with Turkey and also close economic relations, so discussions are very necessary," Merkel told reporters on Wednesday, as cited by Reuters.

“Above all, we should organize the withdrawal so that there is no megaphone diplomacy where we trade insults,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Deutschlandfunk radio earlier on Tuesday. “We have no interest in pushing Turkey into a corner.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Monday Germany can “remove its troops however it wants.”

“There is no decision we have taken on this. They can have it their own way,” he told reporters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in May that the military bloc would not take sides in the spat between its members.

“It has no effect on NATO activities,” he said. “The dispute is a bilateral issue between Turkey and Germany.”

Issues fueling the tension between Germany and Turkey include Berlin’s criticism of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged anti-government activists in the wake of a failed military coup last year. Turkey accuses US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the plot and says it needs to root out a network of his supporters in the country to ensure safety.

Berlin criticized the crackdown, which resulted in some 50,000 arrests and sacking or suspension of some 150,000 officials, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, suspected of being Gulen sympathizers. Ankara also targeted journalists, academicians, judges and other key figures in the country in what Germany sees as a major step away from democracy. Germany gave political asylum to several Turkish military personnel and their family members, who were stationed at NATO facilities in Germany and faced prosecution in their home country.

Another major bone of contention is some actions by EU member countries’ authorities in the wake of a referendum in Turkey, which gave its president in April new sweeping powers. Turkish officials had been blocked from campaigning in Germany and several other European nations, where a large number of Turkish citizens live and work, prompting anger from Ankara.