Bundestag Approves Troop Withdrawal from Turkey

The army belongs to parliament. Picture source: DPA

Germany and Turkey are ostensibly allies, but tensions between the two countries have boiled over in a dispute about the right of parliamentarians to visit German troops stationed at Incirlik airbase.

In a landslide vote on Wednesday, 461 of 569 German legislators approved a resolution to pull German troops out of Turkey and redeploy them to Jordan. Eighty-five parliamentarians voted against the move and 23 abstained. The vote marks the first time that Germany has moved to withdraw troops from a NATO ally, Turkey, and redeploy them to a nation that is not a member of the trans-Atlantic alliance, Jordan.

“With the withdrawal from Incirlik, we have reached a tentative low point in our relations with Turkey,” said Niels Annen, a parliamentarian with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The redeployment will interrupt Germany's participation in the air campaign against the Islamic State group.

The Bundestag rejected a competing motion introduced by the opposition Left Party and Greens that would have withdrawn the troops without redeploying them to another base, effectively pulling the plug on the mission.

Germany has 260 troops and a deployment of Tornado warplanes stationed at Incirlik, from where they stage reconnaissance missions against the Islamic State terrorist group, finding targets in Iraq and Syria for other coalition members to strike. The troops will be redeployed to Azraq airbase in Jordan, where US forces are also stationed.

The unprecedented move by Berlin comes after Turkey blocked German parliamentarians from visiting the troops at Incirlik airbase. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel held talks with Turkey in an effort to resolve the dispute, but Ankara would not guarantee legislators the right to visit.

The Turkish position crossed a red line for Berlin. In Germany’s political system, the Bundestag keeps a tight leash on the country’s armed forces, so much so that the military is often referred to as a “parliament army.” German parliamentarians view visiting the troops as a key part of their duty to oversee the military and German foreign policy.

Turkey’s refusal to allow German parliamentarians to visit Incirlik comes in retaliation for other disputes with Berlin. Ankara blocked parliamentarians from visiting in September 2016 after the Bundestag passed a resolution calling the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks genocide. Turkey again blocked parliamentarians from visiting after Germany granted asylum to several Turkish soldiers who fled the country in the wake of a failed coup and ensuing political crackdown.

The redeployment will interrupt Germany’s participation in the air campaign against the Islamic State group. Tornados will continue flying missions from Incirlik through the end of June, but will then be grounded until they are moved to Jordan. They are expected to fly missions again starting  in October.

Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: s.kimball@extern.handelsblatt.com

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