Germany has ruled out giving Turkey unfiltered access to imagery gathered by Tornado fighter jets operating out of Incirlik air base in southern Turkey as part of the broader fight against Daesh militants, the Defense Ministry said.
German lawmakers, concerned that Turkey could use the high-resolution aerial imagery in its military campaign against autonomy-seeking YPG terrorists, have put strict limits on how German forces can share the data they gather.
A Defense Ministry spokesman declined comment on a Der Spiegel magazine report quoting a German diplomatic cable as saying that Turkey had linked its approval of German housing investments at the air base to getting access to the imagery.
The issue, emerging a few days before Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to travel to Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, could cause further strains in the already frayed relationship between the two NATO allies.
The cable described Turkey's push to tie the imagery issue to German plans to build new housing at the base as "blackmail", according to the magazine report. It said two senior Turkish officials, a senior military officer and Erdoğan's policy adviser had personally issued the demand.
The ministry spokesman said the German air force flew its surveillance missions in strict conformity with the underlying parliamentary mandate and provided the imagery "solely to the anti-Daesh coalition".
He said the German military followed a careful process to ensure the data was not misused for other purposes.
A German officer based in Qatar accepted only those missions aimed at the anti-Daesh fight, while another German officer based at Incirlik reviewed the images before releasing them to the coalition, the spokesman said.
German lawmakers last year voted to extend support for the U.S.-led fight against Daesh through the end of 2017, including deployment of over 250 soldiers at Incirlik. But this was only after Ankara reversed its position and allowed German lawmakers to visit the base.
Turkey had angered Berlin by temporarily blocking the visits after German lawmakers voted last June to declare the alleged 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a "genocide."
The two countries have also been at odds over Turkey's crackdown on dissidents after the failed July 15 coup, and Turkey's claims, which Berlin rejects, that Germany is harbouring PKK terrorists and other enemies of the Turkish state.
In addition, Turkey's defense minister on Sunday was quoted as saying that Germany should reject requests for asylum from some 40 former Turkish soldiers that Ankara suspects of having links to the abortive coup.