Germany Approves Plans To Support International Coalition Fighting ISIS NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with German Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, about Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to commit troops to the ongoing fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
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Germany Approves Plans To Support International Coalition Fighting ISIS

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Germany Approves Plans To Support International Coalition Fighting ISIS

Germany Approves Plans To Support International Coalition Fighting ISIS

Germany Approves Plans To Support International Coalition Fighting ISIS

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NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with German Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, about Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to commit troops to the ongoing fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The German cabinet has approved sending up to 1,200 soldiers to join a coalition of countries that are fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It's in response to France, which has been asking for more support in this fight. Germany's plan still has to be approved by Parliament, although its passage seems likely. We are joined now by Peter Wittig. He is the German ambassador to the United States. Thanks for being with us today.

PETER WITTIG: A pleasure to be with you.

MCEVERS: And can you tell us more about what this plan involves? Apparently, these 1,200 forces, though armed, will not be involved in fighting. Is that correct?

WITTIG: Well, you know, first of all, we realize, as everybody, that the threat of ISIL cannot be addressed without the use of military force. So therefore in the past we have very much focused on the support for the Kurdish defense forces, the peshmerga. But today's decision goes way beyond it. It involves around 1,200 soldiers. And this broad set of measures that the cabinet decided basically has four components. It provides for six tornado aircrafts, which will help to detect cross-border movements and provide intelligence about ISIL operations. It provides a tanker for air-to-air refueling, and it provides a frigate to escort the French aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. And on top of that, Germany will be relieving the French army by playing a greater role against Islamic terrorism in Mali.

MCEVERS: And just to be clear, German aircraft would not be involved in the airstrike campaign that's currently underway, led by the U.S. against ISIS, or ISIL, in Iraq and Syria.

WITTIG: That's correct. It would be aircraft to provide intelligence, but no strikes.

MCEVERS: And so what are the rules of engagement for these German soldiers, though? I mean, what if they're fired upon or one of their - these jets are fired at?

WITTIG: Well, the precise rules of engagement are still to be determined. This is today just a cabinet decision. It has to be condoned and approved by our parliament. We have a parliamentary army. We cannot send a single soldier out of NATO area without parliamental (ph) approval. And - but those aircraft will mainly operate at the Syrian-Turkish border to monitor and provide intelligence.

MCEVERS: Germany has not deployed soldiers since doing so in Afghanistan. I mean, it's rare that Germany sends its troops abroad for anything but peacekeeping efforts usually. I mean, how significant is this announcement?

WITTIG: I think it's very significant. We have a rather restrained tradition in terms of the use of military means. That's part of our historical legacy. But as I said before, with the peshmerga, that was a watershed moment when we delivered weapons and trainers in a hot war zone, which proved to be very affective, by the way. And yet again this decision I think is also a huge step in our participation and to fight ISIL.

MCEVERS: Do you think a majority of the German people are behind this move?

WITTIG: I think the majority will be behind this move. I think the Paris attacks have been a kind of a wake-up call that the whole international community has to rally around the fight against ISIL, which includes the military use of force. And it's in that context that the cabinet today decided on a couple of measures which have military dimension. And I guess the seriousness of the threat I think will make people welcome those decisions.

MCEVERS: Peter Wittig - he is the German ambassador to the United States - thank you very much.

WITTIG: It was a pleasure, thank you.

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