Germany to withdraw from Turkish air base, breaking with Erdogan

Over the weekend we talked about the rising tensions between Germany and Turkey and the implications that could have for European military agreements in the region. The Germans were upset over Turkey’s refusal to allow official visits to the German troops stationed at Incirlik air base, a primary military facility used by a number of countries including the United States. That snub seemed to be a tit-for-tat result of Angela Merkel’s refusal to extradite Turkish citizens in Germany who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accusing of being supporters of last year’s attempted coup.

The situation has boiled over fairly quickly, and now the Associated Press reports that Germany is pulling their troops and aircraft out of Incirlik.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet has decided to pull German troops and reconnaissance aircraft out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base after Turkish officials refused to let members of parliament visit those stationed there.

The decision Wednesday announced by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen comes after a lengthy impasse over the visits and ongoing friction between Berlin and Ankara. They’ve involved a multitude of other issues, including the arrest of German journalists in Turkey and Germany’s decision to grant asylum to soldiers and others who Turkey alleges were involved in last year’s failed coup.

This may not be a huge deal in terms of the overall war against ISIS but it’s definitely an inconvenience to the Germans. They’ve got some Tornado recon planes at Incirlik as well as a refueling plane used by several members of the coalition. Merkel can move the aircraft and personnel to a base in Jordan, but that’s not as convenient as the base in Turkey and will lengthen response times. Of course, both sides are agreeing that the logistics to make the move will take up to two months and they may patch things up in the meantime and decide to leave them there.

But no matter which way it goes, this is only one more example of the fraying of Turkey’s alliances with western powers under Erdogan. He’s been making unreasonable demands of the countries he’s supposedly an ally of while continuing to push his luck in other areas. He’s still holding American Pastor Andrew Brunson in prison and on Friday he arrested the father of an NBA player. Many of the actions Erdogan is taking would have been cause for a complete collapse of diplomatic ties in more peaceful times, but Turkey occupies such a critical position in geopolitical affairs these days they can seemingly get away with pretty much anything. Not only are they a key component in the fight against ISIS, but they are holding back a potentially far more serious flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq which could be streaming into Europe without their cooperation.

Merkel’s move is the first true slap on the wrist that Erdogan has received over his various atrocious actions. Will anyone else be standing up to him in the near future? For at least the time being, color me skeptical.