Germany seeks to use Turkish air base in anti-IS fight

2nd December 2015, Comments 0 comments

Germany is seeking an agreement with Turkey to deploy six reconnaissance aircraft at a base close to Syria as Ankara gave France the go-ahead to use its airspace in the fight against the Islamic State group, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

As Berlin steps up its role in the anti-IS fight, Turkey and Germany were working to finalise a memorandum of understanding to agree within a legal framework the deployment of six Tornado reconnaissance aircraft as well as one refuelling aircraft at the Incirlik air base, a source in Ankara said.

An advance German team was in Turkey last weekend to inspect the base in the southern Adana province in order to make sure that these reconnaissance aircraft can be deployed there, the source added, asking not to be named.

Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen will meet Thursday with Turkish counterpart Ismet Yilmaz in Ankara for talks to hammer out an agreement on the deployment.

Since Turkey gave its approval to Washington earlier this year after months of talks, Incirlik has become a key launch-pad for US planes bombing IS-held targets in Syria.

The German cabinet had Tuesday approved a mandate offering military assistance to back the fight against IS which would sharply step up its role in the US-led coalition against the extremists.

The package, which still requires parliamentary approval, covers six Tornado reconnaissance jets, one refuelling aircraft, a naval frigate and up to 1,200 troops following a request from France in the wake of deadly jihadist attacks in Paris last month.

The six Tornado aircraft have no offensive fighter capability and are specialised in air to ground reconnaissance, the source said.

A German frigate is intended to protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean, from which fighter jets are carrying out bombing runs, and the tanker aircraft could refuel them mid-air to extend their range.

With up to 1,200 soldiers for aerial reconnaissance and support, it would be the largest Bundeswehr mission, following a drawdown in Afghanistan. The number of soldiers also includes the personnel on the frigate.

Around 550 of them are expected to be deployed on Turkish soil if the agreement is reached, the source said.

- France stepping up fight -

The aircraft deployment is expected to take place "very soon", depending on Thursday's discussions between the defence ministers, the source added. "Then a timetable will be fixed."

The German parliament is due to vote the mandate on Friday.

Meanwhile a Turkish diplomatic source told AFP Wednesday that the Turkish government has given fellow NATO member France permission to use its airspace in the fight against IS.

"France asked us for authorisation to use our airspace... This authorisation was given on condition that the general principles outlined by the international (anti-IS) coalition are followed," the source said, asking not to be named.

France will now be able to deploy fighter jets to Turkish bases, mainly the base at Incirlik.

France has intensified its anti-IS strikes after the November 13 Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.

© 2015 AFP

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