U.S. Push for German Ground Troops in Syria Prompts Backlash

(Bloomberg) -
germany syria
German Tornado fighters. (Ralf Hirschberger/AFP/Getty Images, File)

 

A U.S. envoy has asked Germany to consider sending ground troops to Syria, putting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government on the spot.

While German soldiers wouldn’t necessarily need to engage in combat, they could ease the burden on U.S. forces by helping with air support, logistics, training and technical assistance, James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for engagement in Syria, was quoted as saying by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper and DPA newswire.

Germany, a prime target of President Donald Trump’s calls for U.S. allies to increase defense spending, has pledged Tornado surveillance planes to the U.S.-led coalition to defeat Islamic State fighters in Syria. A change in the mandate would require approval by parliament, where Merkel would be likely to face opposition from parts of her coalition.

Germany can’t send soldiers to Syria for “legal reasons,” Fritz Felgentreu, a senior Social Democratic lawmaker, told Die Welt newspaper. The Social Democrats are Merkel’s junior coalition partner.

Johann Wadephul, deputy caucus chief of Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led party bloc, told DPA that Germany shouldn’t reject the U.S. request out of hand.

Trump said in December he’d withdraw military forces from Syria, declaring Islamic State defeated. The announcement led to concerns that the U.S. was leaving Kurdish allies vulnerable to attacks from Turkey. Trump later agreed to keep as many as 400 U.S. troops in the country after American military officials and members of Congress said a withdrawal was premature.

Jeffrey said he discussed the U.S. request with German government officials and they are considering what they can do about it, Welt am Sonntag reported.