On Dec 1, 2015, the German government decided to send troops for the anti-ISIL campaign in Syria. Now the Germans are discussing terms with their partners. Angela Merkel hopes that the Bundestag will be quick in approving her decision. The German MPs are expected to announce their verdict next week. It is expected to be favorable as the key forces of the German parliament, the CDU-CSU and the SDPG, support Merkel’s plans. The opposition, the Left and the Greens, are going to vote against. On Dec 2, 2015, the leader of the Left Dietmar Bartsch said that each bomb dropped on Raqqah is urging new fighters to join the ISIL and is making bigger the threat of terrorism in Germany. But the German oppositionists are not numerous enough to be able to stop Merkel.
This will be Germany’s second big military campaign abroad. The terrorist attacks in Paris were a signal for the Germans to act. But the army of those pro is not much bigger than the army of those against it: 45% against 39%. A year ago the Germans preferred just sending arms to the Kurds fighting the ISIL in Iraq. And even then there were lots of opponents.
Merkel is referring to UN resolution 2249 and the fight to self-defense. But the key pretext was the terrorist attacks in Paris. French Ambassador Philippe Etienne was in the Bundestag when the German MPs were debating on the initiative. In fact, the Germans have answered the Frenchmen’s request for help against terrorism. The decisive point was the last meeting of French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Germans are planning to dispatch to Syria six Recce-Tornado reconnaissance planes, one A-310 MRTT, one F217 Bayern frigate for escorting the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and some 400-500 officers and soldiers. The German pilots will use Reconnaissance Litening Targeting Pod, a system that can identify 5-cm small targets at any hour, in any weather and at any speed. The German SAR-Lupe reconnaissance satellite system will be in touch with the French Helios-2 satellite.
The frigate will have a crew of some 300 men. The planes will need 150 men. Some 50 officers will be sent to the anti-ISIL headquarters. There will also be military policemen. So, in total the German contingent will consist of almost 900 men. This means that the Germans will not fight the ISIL on the ground – a land operation in Syria will require no less than 150,000 men. It would be logical if Merkel sent German soldiers to Syria but today as many as 4,600 German soldiers are involved in NATO’s rapid reaction force in Europe. Besides, almost 8,000 German soldiers are now set to control the inflow of refugees. There are also German troops in Mali and Afghanistan, they are not numerous though.
So, the Syrian campaign is expected to become Germany’s biggest foreign campaign so far. The German Government is planning to give it just 134mn EUR from its 34bn EU defense budget.
The German pilots will report to the coalition’s air headquarters in Qatar. Russia is not part of this headquarters but some German mass media say that the German planes may well share with the Russians the data they will get.
Their primary allies will be French bombers but in general they will serve the interest of the coalition. The Tornados will have air-to-air missiles, which means that they will be able to attack hostile planes.
Four Tornados are supposed to be used in pairs. The remaining two will be the reserve. The Germans have asked both Turkey and Jordan to provide air bases for their anti-ISIL troops but the most probable venue is the Turkish Incirlik.
When talking about Germany’s plans in Syria, Merkel avoids pronouncing the word “war.” She says it will be a military operation and adds that Germany has been part of the anti-ISIL coalition since Sept 2014. The official goal of the operation is to prevent acts of terrorism. Some German mass media even mention “fight against totalitarian Jihad.” The opposition objects and warns that the campaign has no strategy of exit. Steinmeier keeps saying that the Syrian conflict needs a peaceful rather than a military solution, so, the goal of the campaign is to stop the civil war and to form a transition government. This requires a dual strategy: on the one hand, the coalition is planning to use air strikes to force the ISIL out of Syria, on the other, it will promote peace talks in Vienna. The ideal scenario is that the government troops in eventually unite with the opposition against the ISIL. But the Germans are ready to cooperate with the Syrian army only when al-Assad stops to be its commander.
One of the key hopes of the Germans is the Kurdish Peshmerga. But some German experts refer to the military campaigns in Iraq and Libya and warn military victories do not always mean the end of problems. So, the German campaign in Syria has quite vague prospects, Steinmeier advises the Germans to be patient and persistent, while Bundeswehr official Andre Wuster warns that the campaign may drag for more than ten years.
But Germany’s decision to fight in the Middle East has a reverse side as well. German mass media admit that NATO members are at variance concerning their foreign political priorities. France and Germany are focused on their fight against the ISIL, while Poland and the Baltics are warning of a threat coming from Russia. The Southern members are more worried about threats coming from North Africa. In the meantime, the new wave of refugees is fueling nationalism in Europe.
As far as Ukraine is concerned, the German leaders have criticized the Kiev regime for its energy and food blockade of Crimea. On Nov 27, Gernot Erler from the CDU told Deutsche Welle that Ukraine is defaulting on its Minsk II obligations and is escalating tensions in Donbass. It was the first time the Germans publically criticized the Kiev authorities.
One more interesting fact is that the next day after Merkel’s decision to send German troops to Syria, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that it was necessary to revive the NATO-Russia Council. He said that contacts with Russia would reduce risks of conflicts. This is one more proof that NATO’s foreign policy in Europe has split.
EADaily’s European Bureau