Germany mulls joining US-led airstrikes in Syria – report
A report suggests Germany's Bundeswehr could soon be called upon to take part in airstrikes on Syria, if another chemical attack were to occur. While Angela Merkel's CDU supports the idea, others remain wary.
The German Defense Ministry is reportedly in talks with its US counterpart to hammer out details for the Bundeswehr to join possible airstrikes by US, British and French forces on Syrian targets, Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported on Monday.
The report suggests Germany's conservative defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has responded to a US request, which was followed by a meeting of high-ranking ministry and military officials from both countries.
German tornado jets could take part in combat missions alongside their US, UK and French counterparts, according to the article.
Only in case of a chemical attack
The Bundeswehr would only join airstrikes in case of another chemical attack. In April, President Bashar Assad was blamed by Western powers for using chemical weapons in an attack on Douma, which killed more than 70 people.
In response, US, UK and French forces bombed three government sites in Syria. Russia rejected Western allegations that Assad's regime was behind the attacks. The US-led airstrikes were seen as the most significant attack of the allied powers in Syria's civil war.
If Germany joined the alliance, it would risk direct confrontation with Russia, which supports Assad.
Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.
Syria's army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president's rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.
Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. The Turkish military has intervened alongside rebels in northern Aleppo, Afrin and Idlib province.
The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia's intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.
A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.
Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.
"Islamic State" (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own "caliphate," IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is facing defeat in both countries after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.
IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.
Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.
The move, which would have to be approved by the chancellery and Parliament, would be an about-face for conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has previously said Germany would not take part in "military missions" in Syria.
The report goes on to say that Bundeswehr forces could also join reconnaissance flights after a possible attack, also known as "battle damage assessment."
The Bundeswehr is already active in Syria but does not engage in combat missions.
German politicians split over issue
Potential German participation in allied airstrikes in Syrian received support from members of Merkel's Christian Democratic party (CDU).
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Röttgen (CDU), said that Germany should consider joining its Western allies in future military missions "under specific conditions."
Germany should not rule out "preventing a new, horrific gas attack with massive effect on the civilian population," he added, arguing that retaliation for the use of chemical weapons could deter future use.
Opposition politicians from the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) also spoke out in favor of keeping options open for conditional military action in Syria.
However, the issue is far from uncontroversial, given that many Germans are skeptical about their armed forces engaging in combat missions for historical reasons, and division over the idea extended into the governing political parties, with politicians from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rejecting the idea.
The SPD chairperson, Andrea Nahles, reacted to the report by saying that, "the SPD will not approve Germany joining the war in Syria, neither in parliament nor in the government," according to news agency dpa. The Social Democrats are in a grand coalition with Merkel's CDU party.
The foreign and defense ministries would not comment on the report but told Bild that they were "in close contact with our US ally." They also pointed out that it was important to avoid further escalation in Syria, particularly with regard to "the use of chemical weapons, which the Assad regime has used in the past."
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