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Germany mulls joining US-led airstrikes in Syria

Nicole Goebel
September 10, 2018

A report suggests Germany's Bundeswehr could soon be called upon to take part in airstrikes on Syria, if another chemical attack were to occur. While Angela Merkel's CDU supports the idea, others remain wary.

Bundeswehr tornado jet
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

The German Defense Ministry is reportedly in talks with its US counterpart to hammer out details for the Bundeswehr to join possible airstrikes by US, British and French forces on Syrian targets, Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported on Monday.

The report suggests Germany's conservative defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has responded to a US request, which was followed by a meeting of high-ranking ministry and military officials from both countries.

German tornado jets could take part in combat missions alongside their US, UK and French counterparts, according to the article. 

Only in case of a chemical attack

The Bundeswehr would only join airstrikes in case of another chemical attack. In April, President Bashar Assad was blamed by Western powers for using chemical weapons in an attack on Douma, which killed more than 70 people.

In response, US, UK and French forces bombed three government sites in Syria. Russia rejected Western allegations that Assad's regime was behind the attacks. The US-led airstrikes were seen as the most significant attack of the allied powers in Syria's civil war.

If Germany joined the alliance, it would risk direct confrontation with Russia, which supports Assad.

The move, which would have to be approved by the chancellery and Parliament, would be an about-face for conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has previously said Germany would not take part in "military missions" in Syria.

Read more:Iran, Russia, Turkey fail to agree on ceasefire for Syria's Idlib

The report goes on to say that Bundeswehr forces could also join reconnaissance flights after a possible attack, also known as "battle damage assessment."

The Bundeswehr is already active in Syria but does not engage in combat missions.

German politicians split over issue

Potential German participation in allied airstrikes in Syrian received support from members of Merkel's Christian Democratic party (CDU). 

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Röttgen (CDU), said that Germany should consider joining its Western allies in future military missions "under specific conditions."

Germany should not rule out "preventing a new, horrific gas attack with massive effect on the civilian population," he added, arguing that retaliation for the use of chemical weapons could deter future use.

Opposition politicians from the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) also spoke out in favor of keeping options open for conditional military action in Syria. 

However, the issue is far from uncontroversial, given that many Germans are skeptical about their armed forces engaging in combat missions for historical reasons, and division over the idea extended into the governing political parties, with politicians from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rejecting the idea. 

The SPD chairperson, Andrea Nahles, reacted to the report by saying that, "the SPD will not approve Germany joining the war in Syria, neither in parliament nor in the government," according to news agency dpa. The Social Democrats are in a grand coalition with Merkel's CDU party.

The foreign and defense ministries would not comment on the report but told Bild that they were "in close contact with our US ally." They also pointed out that it was important to avoid further escalation in Syria, particularly with regard to "the use of chemical weapons, which the Assad regime has used in the past."