German Cabinet Approves Plans to Send 1,200 Troops to Fight ISIS in Syria

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A Tornado fighter bomber of the German armed forces Bundeswehr during an exercise near Messstetten, southern Germany, June 22, 2010.
A Tornado fighter bomber of the German armed forces Bundeswehr during an exercise near Messstetten, southern Germany, June 22, 2010.Credit: AFP

The German cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to support the international coalition fighting against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The mandate, which requires parliamentary approval, was endorsed by ministers Tuesday. Lawmakers will consider it on Wednesday. Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition has a large majority and approval looks assured.

Following the Paris attacks, Merkel agreed to honor a request from France to provide support for its operations against IS in Syria. Germany plans to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to the region in support roles, but won't actively engage in combat.

The frigate is expected to provide back up to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has already been sent to the eastern Mediterranean as part of the international anti-Islamic State coalition.

According to a report in the German daily Bild, the cabinet's decision was quoted as saying the purpose of the military deployment is to join the "fight against terrorism as part of the coalition against ISIS," and to support "France's and Iraq's struggle against ISIS," in particular.

The daily added that the mission would cost 134 million euro.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel during the weekly cabinet meeting, December 1, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Bild that Berlin had looked at the military requirements and taken its own political responsibility into account in deciding on the scale of the deployment. 

He said that he doesn't expect Germany to have 1,200 soldiers participating at any one time, but the mandate provided a buffer. 

"We are talking about an upper limit, with a buffer zone. I do not think that we will have that many soldiers deployed abroad at the same time," he told Bild, adding only the pilots of Tornado reconnaissance aircraft would be over areas controlled by ISIS.

Shortly before the cabinet's meeting, Germany's defense minister had ruled out any cooperation between German forces due to take part in the military campaign against ISIS in Syria and President Bashar Assad or his troops. 

"The top line is: there will be no cooperation with Assad and no cooperation with troops under his command," Ursula von der Leyen told ARD television, defending the plans. 

However, that did not exclude the possibility of including some of those currently on Assad's side in a long-term solution for the country, she said. 

"We must avoid the collapse of the state of Syria," she said, adding that mistakes made in Iraq, when groups who had been loyal to Saddam Hussein were excluded from joining the political system after his defeat, should not be repeated. 

"But let me be clear - there will be no future with Assad," she stressed. 

The decision to commit to the military campaign in Syria, in a gesture of solidarity with France after the November 13 Islamist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, is a big step for Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left government. 

Since World War II, Germans have only reluctantly joined military missions overseas and had previously resisted a direct involvement in Syria. Germany's Bundestag lower house of parliament is expected to vote on the deployment on Wednesday. 

Britain's parliament will also vote this week on joining air strikes on Syria

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