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German military mulls moving jets to Cyprus, report says

TAGS: Cyprus, Defense

The German military is preparing for a possible withdrawal of six Tornado reconnaissance jets from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base given Ankara's continued refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the facility, Der Spiegel magazine reported Thursday.

The magazine said the German Bundeswehr was evaluating whether it could move the warplanes and refuelling aircraft, which are supporting the US-led coalition's aerial attacks on Islamic State targets, to Jordan or Cyprus. It quoted unnamed military sources as saying such a move would interrupt the reconnaissance flights for at least two months.

The German Defense Ministry gave no details about its plans.

"We would like to continue the mission from Turkey, but there are alternatives to the base in Incirlik," the magazine quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

The Social Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, are now insisting that Germany should withdraw its aircraft and troops from the base given Turkey's refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the base.

"The German government must immediately find other bases for the German soldiers," the magazine quoted Rainer Arnold, defense spokesman for the Social Democrats in parliament, as saying.

Turkey, angered by a resolution passed by the German parliament in June that branded the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as a "genocide," has denied German lawmakers access to the base.

Tensions between the two NATO allies have spiked after the thwarted July 15 coup, with Turkey angry about what it called Germany's sluggish response in condemning the putsch and expressing concern about those killed. Senior German officials have sought to reassure Ankara while continuing to raise concerns about Turkey's crackdown on alleged coup supporters.

Merkel last month said the parliamentarians must be allowed to visit the 250 soldiers at the base, although she stopped short of threatening to withdraw the troops.

Arnold said he viewed an extension of the parliamentary mandate for the German military mission in Turkey as impossible. Without the approval of the SPD, the government cannot extend the mission when it expires in December.

Turkish officials blocked a visit to the base by several German lawmakers earlier this summer, and last week told reporters that they would not approve a separate visit planned by members of the German budget committee in October.

Arnold said the dispute would also prevent Germany's participation in a separate NATO AWACS airborne warning mission from a different Turkish base.

Without German participation, the NATO mission would be difficult to execute, the magazine reported, noting that all 16 of NATO's AWACS jets are based in Geilenkirchen, Germany, and a third of all crews are German soldiers. [Reuters]

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