German parliament approves military campaign against ISIS in Syria

German deputies voting on a stepped-up German role in the fight against ISIS on Dec 4, 2015.
German deputies voting on a stepped-up German role in the fight against ISIS on Dec 4, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AFP) – Lawmakers approved on  Friday (Dec 4) plans for Germany to take on a direct role in the battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), answering France’s appeal for help after the deadly Paris attacks.

Parliament agreed to the mandate for the deployment of Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate and up to 1,200 troops by an overwhelming majority of 445 votes in favour and 146 against.

The green light for the mission that could become Germany’s biggest deployment abroad comes three weeks after terrorists killed 130 people in a series of attacks in Paris.

The atrocities prompted France to invoke a clause requiring EU states to provide military assistance to wipe out the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria.

Britain joined the US-led bombing campaign over Syria on Thursday (Dec 4), striking an ISIS-held oil field as the momentum to take action against the militant group increases.

After repeatedly ruling out the use of “boots on the ground”, US President Barack Obama also agreed to send as many as 100 special forces to Iraq, with a mandate to carry out raids inside Syria.

A broad coalition of 60 countries has been battling ISIS since Aug 2014, although involvement in Syria has been more limited with some Western nations wary of how military action could actually end up serving President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which they view as no longer legitimate.

But reticence seemed to have melted away following the Paris attacks, and in the Netherlands, which has been bombarding the ISIS in Iraq, the government too is coming under pressure to widen the aerial campaign to Syria.

Even in Germany, where there has traditionally been reluctance to engage in military missions abroad, the government’s decision to take direct action in Syria has been largely met with support.

An opinion poll in Die Welt newspaper Friday (Dec 4) showed broad public backing of 58 per cent of people surveyed in favour of the military deployment while 37 per cent were against.

The support came despite a large majority of 63 per cent believing that the risk of a terror attack on German soil will rise as a result of Bundeswehr involvement in Syria.

Meanwhile, France’s President Francois Hollande will on Friday (Dec 4) visit the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria where it is being used to conduct air strikes on ISIS targets.

“He will meet military personnel taking part in operations to intensify the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq,” a statement from the presidency said, using another name for the militant group that has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the case for deployment was watertight legally.

“The Germans can be certain that the deployment to Syria neither violates international law nor the constitution,” he told the Tagesspiegel daily on Friday (Dec 4).

“We must stop this terrorist gang of murderers. That will not be achieved with military action alone, but neither would it be achieved without,” he said.

The package approved by parliament includes six Tornado aircraft which have no offensive fighter capability and are specialised in air-to-ground reconnaissance.

A German frigate will be deployed to protect the Charles de Gaulle, from which French fighter jets are carrying out bombing runs, and the tanker aircraft could refuel them mid-air to extend their range.

Separately, Germany has also pledged to send 650 soldiers to Mali to provide some relief to French forces battling jihadists in the west African nation.

But the opposition warned that Germany is being forced to make a weighty decision too hastily.

“We are being made to decide in three days if Germany would once again be dragged into a war. We do not want to be dragged into a war at the speed of a Tornado,” the Left party’s Petra Sitte told parliament.

But Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen defended the swift action, saying it sends a “signal that we are resolved to fight ISIS”.