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Germany has ruled out giving Turkey unfiltered access to imagery gathered by its Tornado fighter jets operating out of the İncirlik Air Base in southern Turkey as part of a broader fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the German Defense Ministry said, according to a report on German website Bild.de on Jan. 31.
The statement came after another German media outlet, Der Spiegel, reported a diplomatic cable as saying that Turkey had linked its approval of German housing investments for its troops at the İncirlik base to getting access to imagery from Syria and Iraq collected by Germany’s six Tornado reconnaissance air crafts based in the same air base.
German lawmakers, concerned that Turkey could use the high-resolution aerial imagery in its military campaign against autonomy-seeking Kurds in Syria and Iraq, have put strict limits on how German forces can share the data they gather.
The lawmakers also fear the imagery can reach Russia, after Turkey’s recent rapprochement with the country following nine months of highly-strained relations due to Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet along its border with Syria on Nov. 24, 2015.
The thorny issue, emerging a few days before Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to travel to Turkey on Feb. 2 to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, could cause further strain in the already frayed relationship between the two NATO allies.
The cable published by Der Spiegel described Turkey’s push to tie the imagery issue to German plans to build new housing at the base as “blackmail.” It said two senior Turkish officials, a senior military officer and a policy adviser of Erdoğan had issued the demand.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said the German air force flew its surveillance missions in strict conformity with the underlying parliamentary mandate and provided the imagery “solely to the anti-ISIL coalition,” according to Reuters.
He said the German military followed a careful process to ensure the data was not misused for other purposes, Reuters added.
The German Defense Ministry confirmed that the blueprints for the buildings aimed at being built inside the İncirlik base for the about 250 German troops have long been waiting to be approved by the Turkish side.
“The signing by Turkey is out, the reasons for the delay are not known to us,” Bild.de quoted the ministry as saying.
German lawmakers last year voted to extend support to the U.S.-led fight against ISIL over the end of 2017, including deployment of over 250 soldiers at İncirlik. But this was only after Ankara reversed its position and allowed German lawmakers to visit the base.
Turkey had angered Berlin by temporarily blocking visits to İncirlik after German lawmakers voted last June to declare the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 a “genocide.”
The two countries have also been at odds over Turkey’s crackdown on dissidents after the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt, and Turkey’s claims, which Berlin rejects, that Germany is harboring Kurdish militants and other enemies of the Turkish state.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Işık over the weekend said that Germany should reject requests for asylum from some 40 former Turkish soldiers that Ankara suspects of having links to the coup attempt.
2017.02.01 / 20:14