US call for Syria troops divides German coalition

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition
The US has called on Germany to send military trainers, logistics specialists and technicians to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against Daesh. (File/Reuters)
Updated 07 July 2019

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition
  • The US wants ground troops from Germany to partly replace their soldiers
  • A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners

BERLIN: Discord broke out in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition Sunday, after the United States urged the country to send ground troops to Syria as Washington looks to withdraw from the region.
“We want ground troops from Germany to partly replace our soldiers” in the area as part of the anti-Daesh coalition, US special representative on Syria James Jeffrey had told German media including Die Welt newspaper.
Jeffrey, who was visiting Berlin for Syria talks, added that he expects an answer this month.
Last year US President Donald Trump declared victory against Daesh and ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops from Syria.
A small number have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by the regime of President Bashar Assad, and Washington is pushing for increased military support from other members of the international coalition against Daesh.
“We are looking for volunteers who want to take part here and among other coalition partners,” Jeffrey said.
A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).
“There will be no German ground troops in Syria with us,” tweeted a member of the interim SPD leadership, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel.
“I don’t see people wanting that among our coalition partners” in Merkel’s center-right CDU, he added.
But deputy conservative parliamentary leader Johann Wadephul told news agency DPA that Germany should “not reflexively reject” the US call for troops.
“Our security, not the Americans’, is being decided in this region,” added Wadephul, seen as a candidate to succeed Ursula von der Leyen as defense minister if she is confirmed as European Commission chief.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
Washington has two goals in northeastern Syria: to support the US-backed Kurdish forces that expelled Daesh from northern Syria as they are increasingly threatened by Turkey, and to prevent a potential Daesh resurgence in the war-torn country.
The US is hoping Europe will help, pressuring Britain, France and now Germany, which has so far deployed surveillance aircraft and other non-combat military support in Syria.
However Germany’s history makes military spending and foreign adventures controversial.
Berlin sent soldiers to fight abroad for the first time since World War II in 1994, and much of the political spectrum and the public remains suspicious of such deployments.
As well as the SPD, the ecologist Greens, liberal Free Democrats and Left party all urged Merkel to reject the US request for troops.
The US appeal comes after Trump has repeatedly urged Berlin to increase its defense spending, last month calling Germany “delinquent” over its contributions to NATO’s budget.
But such criticisms have more often hardened resistance to forking out more on the military rather than loosening the country’s purse strings.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told business newspaper Handelsblatt on Saturday that Trump wanted “vassals” rather than allies.
“I’d have liked the federal government to tell him once or twice that it’s none of his business” how much Germany spends on defense, Schroeder said.
“This isn’t a banana republic here!“


UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March
Updated 15 min 6 sec ago

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the elderly, including care home residents, the clinically vulnerable and frontline workers

LONDON: Britain’s government hopes it can meet its target for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and be able to consider easing lockdown restrictions by March, foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
The country, which has Europe’s highest COVID-19 death toll, has been under a national lockdown since Jan. 5, when schools were closed for most pupils, non-essential businesses were shut to the public, and people were ordered to work from home where possible.
“What we want to do is get out of this national lockdown as soon as possible,” Raab told Sky News television.
“By early spring, hopefully by March, we’ll be in a position to make those decisions. I think it’s right to say we won’t do it all in one big bang. As we phase out the national lockdown, I think we’ll end up phasing through a tiered approach.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the elderly, including care home residents, the clinically vulnerable and frontline workers — or roughly more than 13 million people — by mid-February.
If all goes smoothly, he has said that England can consider easing lockdown restrictions from that time.
The Sunday Times newspaper said British ministers had reached a deal to approve a three-point plan that could lead to some lockdown restrictions being lifted as soon as early March.
Areas will have restrictions eased once their death rate has fallen, the number of hospital admissions drops and some people aged between 50 and 70 are vaccinated, the newspaper said.
The Sunday Times quoted cabinet ministers as saying they were prepared to resist pressure from health advisers to delay the changes until most people are vaccinated, a process that would take until the summer at least.
“For the first time there are no significant divisions between hawks and doves in the cabinet,” a cabinet source told the newspaper. “Everyone accepted that we need to lock down hard and everyone accepts that we need to open up before everyone is vaccinated.”
A spokesman in Johnson’s office declined to comment on the report.