Berlin cabinet backs military aid in fight against Isis

Opposition has warned the plan is rash and possibly illegal

Tornados of the German air force’s reconnaissance squadron 51. From next month German Tornados will fly reconnaissance missions over Isis strongholds. Photograph: Carsten Rehder/dpa via AP

Tornados of the German air force’s reconnaissance squadron 51. From next month German Tornados will fly reconnaissance missions over Isis strongholds. Photograph: Carsten Rehder/dpa via AP

 

Germany has begun preparations to deploy 1,200 soldiers and provide technical assistance for the international alliance against so-called Islamic State, avoiding direct military involvement.

After the mission secured cabinet backing on Tuesday, the Bundestag will debate the deployment on Wednesday ahead of likely parliamentary approval on Friday – amid opposition warnings that the plan is rash and possibly illegal.

“As far as the government is concerned the mission agreed by cabinet serves German security interests,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for chancellor Angela Merkel.

The proposed plan will see 1,200 soldiers deployed to the region and a German frigate patrolling Syrian coastal waters to protect French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

From next month German Tornado planes will begin flying reconnaissance missions over Isis strongholds to identify movements and possible targets. Also likely is that the Germany will provide additional imagery from Bundeswehr satellites in the region, and operate special planes to allow airborne refuelling.

The mandate will be initially for a year, although foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier warned that it would be a “long-term engagement”.

Mr Steinmeier, a senior figure in the Berlin coalition’s junior Social Democratic Party (SPD), said the military engagement would not detract from German efforts to help reach a diplomatic solution with its international partners in the battle against Isis.

“This cannot be allowed distract from our view that the situation in Syria won’t be solved militarily,” he said.

The mission has divided public opinion, where history has made people traditionally wary of German military engagement in the world. Those doubts are audible right into the grand coalition, where rank-and-file deputies both in the SPD and Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have questioned the long-term strategy, in particular where this leaves Germany in relation to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Volker Kauder, CDU Bundestag floor leader, described the mission on Tuesday as an “important sign of solidarity” with Europe and France.

“You can see we are standing together,” said Mr Kauder, whose job now is to crack his whip to maximise CDU support for the mission before Friday’s vote.

Even with abstentions or dissent in the grand coalition ranks the government’s four-fifths Bundestag majority makes backing of the mission all but certain.

Opposition politicians condemned the swift deployment plans on Tuesday as “sending soldiers into flames without a goal, strategy or basis in law”.

“This mission is on a very wobbly legal basis without a concrete description of a goal and it will only increase the terror risk,” said Dietmar Bartsch, co-floor leader of the opposition Linke, announcing plans for a legal challenge to the mission at Germany’s constitutional court.

The opposition Greens warned that it would be a “fatal signal” if it appeared that Germany was ready to assist “Assad’s murderous gang ... the main cause of flight from Syria”.

“We need a UN mandate to legitimise this mission on foreign territory,” said Simone Peter, Green co-leader. “As it stands it lacks a political goal or concept and is thus irresponsible.”