Germany Decides Not To Arm Syrian Rebels Germany has chosen not to arm Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS. NPR's Arun Rath talks to German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig about what led to the decision.
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Germany Decides Not To Arm Syrian Rebels

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Germany Decides Not To Arm Syrian Rebels

Germany Decides Not To Arm Syrian Rebels

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

As we just heard, so far there is no coalition behind U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. There is more support, however, for operations in northern Iraq, where France and Germany are actively involved. Peter Wittig is German Ambassador to the U.S. I spoke with him earlier this week and asked him to describe Germany's current strategy against ISIS.

PETER WITTIG: We decided to deliver ammunition, to deliver rifles and to deliver anti-tank weapons to the Peshmerga with the consent of the government in Baghdad. That's important to have them on board. And we also sent a couple of people to train the Kurdish fighters in the use of those weapons.

RATH: The United States is also fighting the Islamic State in Syria. President Obama talked about expanded airstrikes there. The CIA is training and in some cases arming so-called moderate rebels. Germany made the decision not to contribute arms to the Syrian rebels. Can you explain why?

WITTIG: Well, the situation in Syria is different from Iraq. We have the Assad regime and a very fragmented landscape of opposition forces. So we advised to have a close look at the opposition. And that's a more difficult and challenging task than in the case of Iraq.

RATH: Is there a problem with that caution, though? Do you think the Islamic State can be contained or defeated without Western military intervention in Syria?

WITTIG: Of course the threat of ISIL also emanates from Syria, not just from Iraq. But we remain cautious as to the question of delivering arms to the opposition there.

RATH: And you're speaking of the threat posed by the Islamic State. Is the Islamic State - do you see it as a direct threat to your country, to Germany or to German citizens?

WITTIG: I think it is a threat to Europe and also to my country. We are a neighboring continent to the Middle Eastern region. And we have the issue of the so-called foreign fighters - European, in some cases German nationals, being recruited by ISIL and fighting there and then in some cases returning to our countries and posing a threat. So it is a direct threat to us as well. And we want to make sure to prevent those foreign fighters from leaving our countries in the direction of Syria and returning.

RATH: There have been U.S. citizens - have been among those foreign fighters who have gone to fight with ISIS along with Germans. Why do you think ISIS is appealing to some Germans? And what is your government doing to prevent recruitment there?

WITTIG: I think there is a variety of motives why they join ISIL. Some of them are sort of so-called lone wolves. Some of them are members of Islamic jihadist cells that operate clandestinely in our countries. Some of them - it's pure adventurism. And the social media play a big role.

Recruitment by social media has played an important part in recruiting those foreign fighters. So it's a new phenomenon and it poses a threat to our countries. And we take it extremely seriously. It's a challenge for all the security agencies.

RATH: German Ambassador Peter Wittig speaking with us from Washington, D.C. Ambassador, vielen Dank. Thanks very much.

WITTIG: Thank you for having me.

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