Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey has been an integral part of the multinational effort against the Islamic State. The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS uses the base to conduct sorties against the terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. has some 2,500 troops in Turkey, and most of them are stationed at Incirlik. Another member of the coalition, Germany, has about 250 service members, 6 fighter jets and a tanker aircraft at the base. However, they will remain there only until July.
Tense relations with Ankara have forced Berlin to find an alternative location to host its troops. Next month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Hamburg to attend G20 summit, but no meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is yet scheduled.
Tensions between the two nations rose after Germany granted asylum to diplomats and military officers allegedly involved in 2016 failed coup and did not allow Turkish politicians to hold campaign rallies earlier this year. Mr. Erdogan accused Berlin of Nazi practices in response. Later, the Turkish authorities did not allow German lawmakers to visit the country’s servicemen stationed at Incirlik.
“We see that Germany supports everything that is against Turkey,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month. “Under these circumstances, it is not possible for us to open Incirlik to German lawmakers right now. If they take positive steps in the future, we can reconsider.”
Soon after Mr. Cavusoglu’s speech, on June 7, Berlin announced the decision to relocate its troops and aircraft from Incirlik to Al Azraq air base in Jordan. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday that the withdrawal would begin in July.
“Until the end of June, our flight plans as part of the anti-Islamic State coalition are set,” she explained. “After that, we’ll be transferring our tanker aircraft as quickly as possible to Jordan.”
A spokesman for the German Federal Ministry of Defense told The Globe Post that the troops would be relocated gradually in order not to hamper counter-ISIS operations.
“Turkish authorities have assured us of their full support,” he added.
The spokesman noted that the decision to relocate troops and aircraft from Incirlik “was not taken out of a military rational, but due to political circumstances.”
“Turkey is and remains an important ally and NATO partner,” he said. “Turkey’s host nation support in Incirlik and other military bases in Turkey is very good on the military level.”
As of now, Berlin’s decision to relocate its troops to Jordan has not affected military-to-military cooperation between Germany and Turkey.
The two nations continue to cooperate on issues like training exchange programs. Moreover, information-sharing between Germany and Turkey “follows established procedures” both within NATO and the counter-ISIS coalition, the spokesman said.
At the same time, Germany and Turkey have made no plans to hold any bilateral military exercises.
“However, German observers frequently attend major military exercises in Turkey and vice versa. Furthermore, Germany and Turkey stand and train together in NATO and cooperate closely in the framework of international missions and operations, for example in KFOR [Kosovo Force], Resolute Support or UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon],” the spokesperson stated.
Earlier this month, Turkish government minister and spokesman, Numan Kurtulmus, said that Ankara was uninvolved in Berlin’s decision to relocate its troops.
“Bottom line, it is a unilateral decision made only by them,” he said, adding that a visit to Incirlik or a NATO base in Konya was out of the question for “anti-Turkey German lawmakers.”
Ankara’s rhetoric indicates that the Turkish authorities remain determined to hold their ground and even downgrade the level of ties with Germany.
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