Several months after an unprecedented collapse in relations between two NATO member states, on Thursday Germany’s military announced it has finished its withdrawal from Turkey’s strategic airbase Incirlik, which as a reminder was prompted by Ankara’s refusal to allow visits by German parliamentarians. Going forward, Bundeswehr planes will instead be based in Jordan.
As we reported at the time, in June Germany’s parliament, which ultimately decides on deployments, voted overwhelmingly to leave Incirlik amid a multifaceted dispute with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his post-coup crackdown. As a “parliamentary army,” the Bundeswehr requires a vote of approval from Bundestag lawmakers for each foreign deployment and a parliamentary committee regularly evaluates Germany missions abroad.
As Deutsche Welle reports, Germany’s transfer of reconnaissance and refueling aircraft from Incirlik to Jordan’s al-Asrak airbase had been “an unprecedented, mammoth task” according to German contingent commander Stefan Kleinheyer said Wednesday.
The Bundeswehr relocated a set of Tornado reconnaissance jets, a German refueling aircraft, logistical equipment and 260 personnel to Jordan. The troops are involved in oversight of the US-led aerial campaign against “Islamic State” (IS) militia in adjacent Syria. According to German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen the unit was being redeployed to a Jordanian air base used by numerous NATO partners.
The two countries tried to patch up badly damaged relations In early September, when seven German parliamentarians visited NATO’s Konya airbase in central Turkey under a compromise access arrangement via the military alliance. At the time, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said that visit was only a temporary compromise, adding that Berlin would endeavor to arrange politically “smoother” parliamentary oversight in Turkey in the future.
However, despite detente attempts, the tensions have remained after Turkish military officers who sought asylum in Germany were deemed by Erdogan to have been among plotters of the failed coup. Amid high German-Turkish tension, several German cities barred rallies by pro-Erdogan politicians.
Separately, also on Thursday, in a tit for tat “hostage” exchange, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Ankara could free a detained US pastor if Washington extradites Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of being behind last year’s failed coup attempt. “‘Give us the pastor back,’ they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gulen) to us,” Erdogan said during a speech to police officers at the presidential palace in Ankara.
“The (pastor) we have is on trial. Yours is not – he is living in Pennsylvania. You can give him easily. You can give him right away.”
Erdogan was referring to pastor Andrew Brunson, who was detained in Turkey on terrorism charges last October. According to Turkish media, Brunson’s charges include being part of Gulen’s network. However, the US says the pastor has been wrongfully imprisoned and has called for his release. Previously, Trump asked Ankara to return Brunson to the US in May, according to the White House.
Meanwhile, Turkey continues to have an increasingly tense relationship with the EU, which criticized Erdogan’s actions following the coup. The crackdown negatively impacted Turkey’s lengthy efforts to receive EU membership, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel making her opinion clear that Turkey should not become a member of the bloc. Erdogan has responded with his own thoughts on the EU, telling Reuters last week that the bloc has “never kept their promises” when it came to Turkey gaining membership.
As a result, Erdogan has broadly pivoted toward Russia, recently completing the purchase of an advanced S-400 missile batter from Moscow.
* * *