Bundeswehr mission in Syria up for debate in Bundestag
Germany should prepare for a long, difficult and dangerous fight against IS in Syria, the defense
minister has said. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the deployment but are likely to approve the mission.
The German Bundestag is preparing to debate on Wednesday whether it will approve the cabinet’s plans to take part in military intervention in Syria to combat the “Islamic State.” So far, the basic tenants of the deployment call for 1,200 soldiers, six Tornado reconnaissance jets , refueling aircraft and a frigate to join the international coalition fighting “IS.”
The vote in the Bundestag is set for Friday, with approval seen as likely as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” government enjoys a wide majority in the German parliament’s lower house.
However, there are some key questions that are certain to come up during Wednesday’s parliamentary debate.
“Galloping” toward a vote
One concerns the quick turnaround on the vote to deploy the military, which is seen as a sign of solidarity with France following the November 13 terror attacks in Paris . Merkel met with French President Francois Hollande last week and pledged Germany’s help. The cabinet’s commitment came Tuesday, and now the vote is scheduled for Friday.
German cabinet backs anti-IS mission
Cem Özdemir, leader of the opposition Greens party, said in an interview with the daily “Mitteldeutsche Zeitung” that the government was “pursuing [the vote] at a gallop … for the sole purpose of getting it off the agenda” before the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) hold their party conventions.
Özedmir said he would abstain from the vote, and the majority of parliamentarians in his party indicated they would vote against it during an internal test run on Tuesday, according to the paper.
For members of Merkel’s CDU, however, the Bundeswehr’s likely mission may not be Germany’s only contribution to the fight against Islamic State.
“Now it is a question of can we and do we want to provide and additional military contribution,” Norbert Röttgen, chairman of Bundestag’s foreign policy committee, said Wednesday morning on German public television. “Those two questions can be answered with yes – as I will do – or with no, but that is possible in a week.”
“Long, difficult and dangerous”
Another concern is regarding how long Germany’s military commitment will last. Like any deployment of Germany’s Bundeswehr armed forces, the mandate must be extended by the Bundestag each year, but there are concerns that Germany’s involvement in Syria could drag on.
Von der Leyen ruled out sharing information with Russia
The head of Germany’s armed forces union, Andre Wuestner of the Bundeswehrverband, told public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday that fighting could last “far more than ten years” and said politicians should come up with a “clearly defined mission” for the military.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on public broadcaster ARD’s morning program on Wednesday that “it will be a long deployment, and it will be a difficult and dangerous deployment,” but the exact length would be determined by how quickly political negotiations at restoring peace in Syria would produce results.
Von der Leyen also addressed concerns regarding the recipients of collected data that would be gathered by Germany’s Tornado reconnaissance jets, with Russia being the principal worry.
“We have very clear rules on how the data can be collected and shared,” she said, adding that Germany would only share information from the reconnaissance flights with “a small circle of countries that are actively operating in Syria … countries we know well.” She listed Belgium, France, Italy, and Denmark as examples, and explicitly said Russia would not be included.
She has also ruled out coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose government, with the help of Russia and Iran, is also fighting against IS.
Not all of Germany’s Tornado jets are combat-ready
Von der Leyen did not dispute media reports that around half of Germany’s Tornado jets were currently not combat-ready, but did add that of the 30 jets that are combat-ready, the Syria mission only called for the Bundeswehr to contribute six jets.
Largest mission since Afghanistan
If approved, the Syria mission would become the Bundeswehr’s largest. At the moment, the biggest foreign deployment of German armed forces is in Afghanistan, where fewer than 1,000 troops are assisting Afghan security forces . Germany previously fielded some 5,000 soldiers in the country during a combat mission.
This week’s proposed mandate would also cover a deployment of up to 650 soldiers to the West African nation Mali to provide assistance to French forces fighting Islamist militants.