For domestic policy reasons, Turkey is not currently willing to assure members of the German Bundestag free access to German Bundeswehr troops stationed in Incirlik, declared Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel on Monday (5 June) after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu in Ankara.
This is absolutely inconceivable under German law, because the Bundeswehr is a parliamentary army, i.e. it is controlled by Germany’s elected parliament. "Wherever the Bundeswehr is, members of the German Bundestag must be able to visit the troops," reiterated Sigmar Gabriel, and added, "Since this is not now possible in Incirlik, we will withdraw the Bundeswehr from Incirlik."
In an interview, Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Cabinet would deliberate the matter on Wednesday and decide on the next steps. "Until now Incirlik has been a good air base in the fight against IS. But it is obviously unacceptable that members of our parliament are unable to visit our troops in Incirlik," said Ursula von der Leyen. The Bundeswehr is well prepared for the transfer, she said. An alternative air base is available in Jordan.
From Incirlik Air Base German planes fly missions over Syrian and Iraqi sovereign territory as part of the anti-IS coalition. Germany is supporting the international alliance with Tornado reconnaissance aircraft and tanker aircraft for the mid-air refuelling of fighter jets.
Some time will be needed to transfer the Bundeswehr from Incirlik to Jordan. Ursula von der Leyen said that the surveillance flights and mid-air refuelling services provided by the Bundeswehr in the fight against the IS will thus be interrupted. "But we will do everything in our power to keep this interruption as short as possible," stressed the Federal Minister of Defence.
Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen flew to Jordan in May. She met a Bundeswehr assessment team, which was exploring alternative bases for the Bundeswehr contingent stationed in Incirlik.
"My initial impression of the Al Azraq Air Base here in Jordan is positive," said Ursula von der Leyen after her meeting with the team. The operational facilities available for tanker aircraft and Tornados are good, she said.
The debate surrounding the deployment of German armed forces in Turkey has also spread to include the NATO base in Konya. Unlike the air base in Incirlik, Konya is also a NATO base, from which NATO surveillance aircraft operate with two important duties. Firstly, they support the anti-IS coalition, and secondly they play an important part in monitoring NATO airspace.
NATO AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) aircraft are a joint NATO capability and not a national capability. Even if German personnel is involved, only NATO as a whole can make a decision regarding the deployment of NATO AWACS aircraft. At present a withdrawal from Konya is not on NATO’s agenda.