Germany began to pull its troops out of the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey on Sunday, from where German troops have been carrying out reconnaissance missions as part of the US-led coalition’s campaign in Syria and Iraq. The move follows tensions with Ankara over access, a German defense ministry spokesman said.
The withdrawal from the Incirlik base, approved by the German parliament last month, marks a further step in one of many bilateral disputes, ranging from a post-coup clampdown by Ankara to Turkish political campaigning in Germany.
German troops, an air refueling tanker, equipment and aircraft parts left Incirlik for Jordan’s Al-Asrak base on Sunday, Germany’s defense ministry spokesman confirmed. This will result in the suspension of German participation within the US-led coalition for at least two or three months.
German tornado jets were due to keep operating out of Incirlik at least until the end of July as part of a mission providing reconnaissance aircraft to support U.S.-led coalition operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These jets stationed will be sent back to Germany as the Jordanian base is not yet fully ready to accommodate the aircraft.
Jordan’s Al-Asrak base is also much smaller than Turkey’s Incirlik and must first be modified to meet the needs of the German air grouping. Berlin must also still sign several technical agreements with Amman regulating the stationing of German aircraft at the base, German’s Der Spiegel weekly reported.
The US military will assist German troops in their relocation operation and will provide them with additional transportation capacity, including the Boeing C17 transport aircraft, according to the weekly.
Germany had six Tornado fighter jets, a tanker plane used for refueling and about 280 troops stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik as part of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. The contingent was deployed to the base in response to the Paris terrorist attacks in December 2015.
The decision to relocate German troops from the Turkish base came as relations between the two countries took a new hit mid-May. Turkey had refused to allow German lawmakers to make a routine visit to the base, saying that Berlin needed to improve its attitude towards Turkey first.
The refusal was motivated by Berlin’s decision to grant asylum to a number of Turkish nationals accused by Ankara of participating in the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Germany had also banned some Turkish politicians from campaigning on its soil for a referendum on giving Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Ankara ordered a similar ban in 2016, following the Bundestag’s (German parliament) decision to brand the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide.
Ankara responded by accusing Berlin of “Nazi-like” tactics and reigniting the dispute over Incirlik.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier that a bilateral meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had revealed “deep differences” between the two NATO allies.