German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has told a newspaper that the aim of military intervention in Syria is to stop the advance of 'IS.' NATO's secretary-general has also called for the jihadi group to be destroyed.
Gabriel told the "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper that Germany's military mission to Syria, as part of an international coalition to fight "Islamic State," is aimed at preventing the extremists from gaining more territory, but he also added that military action would not on its own resolve the country's conflict.
"We need a political solution in Syria to end the civil war. The current warring parties - government army, non-Islamist rebels and Kurds - must fight together against ISIS," Gabriel told the paper's Sunday edition, using an alternative name for the jihadi group.
"Until then, however, we must prevent territorial gains by ISIS using military means," he said. When asked whether "IS" could be destroyed, he responded: "Yes. And we must do so."
Gabriel also said the West would need Saudi Arabia's support to destroy "IS." The statement came after Germany's BND intelligence agency published a report saying the Saudi defense minister could endanger ties with regional and international allies. The German minister, however, also added that Saudi financing for foreign fundamentalist Islamic groups needed to stop.
"We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over," Gabriel said.
No ground troops
Germany is not taking part in international airstrikes against "IS," but it is sending reconnaissance and refueling aircraft in addition to a warship to aid the alliance against the group. The German naval frigate carrying 230 soldiers joined a French aircraft carrier on Sunday in the southeast Mediterranean. The ships are making their way to the Suez Canal.
Gabriel said, however, that while efforts to stop the Islamists were ongoing, the West should ask itself about its own role in the creation of 'IS.' He cited the US-led invasion of Iraq, in which Germany did not take part, as a mistake that caused the country to become "a breeding ground for terrorists" owing to the complete destruction of state infrastructure.
The vice chancellor ruled out the deployment of German ground forces in Syria, saying that a much clearer UN mandate would be needed for that to happen. He also warned that if US and European ground troops were sent to Syria, it would play into the hands of Islamists trying to portray the situation as a fight of the West against Muslims, when in fact Muslims themselves were currently the main victims of "IS."
Gabriel's call for decisive action against "IS" echoed remarks made by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to the same newspaper on Sunday.
"The aim is to destroy ISIS," Stoltenberg said, adding that it would take some time. "I can't say whether months or years."
Stoltenberg also ruled out the use of Western ground troops, saying that it was more important to help local Syrian forces in their fight against the jihadis. Like Gabriel, he emphasized that there was "no war between the West and the Islamic world."
Criticism of Moscow
In comments to other European newspapers, including Germany's "Welt am Sonntag," Stoltenberg called on Russia to play a more constructive role in the fight against "IS."
"Russia must concentrate its attacks on 'IS,'" he said, criticizing that Moscow had also attacked other opposition groups in Syria in an apparent bid to keep its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in power.
Russia is carrying out a series of airstrikes in Syria that it says are aimed at aiding troops loyal to Assad fight what it calls "terrorists." The United States, which wants to see Assad ousted, and other Western countries have often voiced fears that Moscow is targeting moderate rebel groups as well as '"IS" extremists.
"It is important now to de-escalate and to develop mechanisms to prevent similar incidents in the future," he said.
Turkey shot down the Russian plane on November 24, claiming that it had violated Turkish airspace. Russia has called the incident a "planned provocation," and the two countries remain at loggerheads over the incident.