Germany is preparing to withdraw troops and military aircraft flying missions against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) from Turkey amid a worsening dispute between the two Nato allies.
The German defence ministry said on Thursday it was drawing up contingency plans to move troops and Tornado aircraft from a Nato airbase in Turkey to another country if necessary.
The move came as German MPs threatened a vote in parliament to pull the troops out of Turkey.
Relations between Turkey and the rest of Nato have been strained since the failed coup attempt last month and the crackdown on opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which followed.
But the threat to withdraw German forces is the first sign that the tensions could have a serious impact on the military alliance.
Germany has six Tornados and a refuelling aircraft stationed at Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, together with some 250 personnel.
While the German planes are not taking part in direct combat missions against Isil, they are providing reconnaissance for air strikes by Nato allies.
The armed forces would like to continue the joint fight against Islamic State from the Nato base at Incirlik, Ursula von der Leyen, the German defence minister, said.
The operations at Incirlik are in the common interest of Germany and Turkey.
But she conceded that Germany is considering fallback options.
The background to the dispute is the Turkish government’s refusal to allow a delegation of German MPs to visit troops stationed at Incirlik.
Turkey blocked the proposed visit in protest after the German parliament voted in June to recognise the 1915 massacre of 1.5m Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide.
Angela Merkel has attempted to play down the row but MPs from her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), are threatening a vote in parliament to pull the troops out.
We will only send our soldiers to countries where we can be certain that we can visit them, Rainer Arnold, the SPD’s defence spokesman, said.
The federal government must clarify alternative locations for the German troops immediately.
Under German law, any military mission abroad must be mandated by parliament. The mandate for the troops in Turkey is due to expire in December.
MPs could trigger a vote before then, and the government is unlikely to win a renewed mandate without the SPD’s votes.
The dispute has been exacerbated by tensions between Turkey and the EU over the post-coup crackdown on Mr Erdogan’s opponents.
Relations with Nato have also been strained by Turkish anger at the US’ reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the cleric Mr Erdogan accuses of being behind the coup.
There is concern in Nato circles that Mr Erdogan has moved Turkey closer to Russia in recent weeks. His first trip out of Turkey after the failed coup was to St Petersburg, where he was given a warm welcome by President Vladimir Putin.
If the German aircraft are pulled out of Turkey, they could be continue reconnaissance flights against Isil from an alternative base in the region. The most likely locations are thought to be Cyprus or Jordan.
Neither is as well equipped to handle Tornados as Incirlik, and the move would create logistical problems transferring the German reconnaissance to aircraft mounting air strikes out of Turkey.
Diplomatic efforts continue behind the scenes to patch up the row. But an unnamed senior source in the German military told Bild newspaper: The time window is running out.
News Source TelegraphNews