Image: French President Francois Hollande (R) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
By Noah Barkin and Sabine Siebold
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will join the military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria by deploying Tornado reconnaissance jets, refuelling aircraft and a frigate to the region, after a direct appeal from close partner France for Berlin to do more.
The decision to commit military personnel and hardware is a shift for Germany, which has resisted such direct involvement in the conflict. It still has no plans to join France, the United States and Russia in conducting air strikes in Syria.
“Today the government took difficult but important and necessary decisions,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after meeting with lawmakers. “We are standing with France, which was hit by these inhuman attacks from IS.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel promised the support, which must still be approved by parliament, during talks with French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Wednesday.
Berlin expects to commit four to six Tornado jets, provide satellite support, refuelling planes and a frigate to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which the French navy has sent to the eastern Mediterranean to support air strikes in both Syria and Iraq.
Henning Otte, a member of parliament for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who acts as a spokesman for the party on defence matters, told Reuters that the government aimed to have a draft of the new mandate ready by Tuesday and seek approval from the Bundestag by the end of the year.
The moves follow attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people and led Hollande to call for a grand coalition of countries to fight Islamic State.
Germany had already signalled that it would send up to 650 more soldiers to Mali to help the French and raise the number of army trainers for Kurdish peshmerga fighters operating in northern Iraq to 150. Last year, Berlin agreed to send arms to the Kurds.
But during her Wednesday trip to Paris, Merkel was asked by Hollande to do “even more”.
“When the French president asks me to think about what more we can do, then it is our duty to reflect on this and we will also react very quickly here,” she said in Paris.
German officials said that Merkel saw the bigger German role as a necessary price to pay in exchange for Hollande’s continued support in the refugee crisis.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested, in comments published by several European newspapers on Wednesday, that Europe should stop letting in so many refugees. The remarks were seen by some as a warning to the German chancellor, who is pushing her European partners to accept quotas of refugees.
German officials say winning parliamentary approval for the new military steps should not be difficult, given United Nations resolutions on Syria and France’s invocation of the European Union’s mutual assistance clause after the Paris attacks.
But that did not stop the leader of the opposition Left party, condemning the move and warning that it would raise the risk of attacks in Germany.
“If you send German Tornados to Syria, you only create more terrorists and increase the danger of an attack in Germany,” Sarah Wagenknecht said.
Von der Leyen told German television later on Thursday that Germany was not at war because it is not fighting a sovereign country but a “murderous gang,” referring to Islamic State.
“There are risks. It is a dangerous operation, no doubt. But there are also defence mechanisms set up by the coalition, which has been conducting attacks for a year and we know that not a single aircraft has been downed,” she said.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Holger Hansen, Thorsten Severin and Joseph Nasr; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Larry King)
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