Germany’s Leopard 2 Tank Was Considered One of the Best (Until It Went to Syria)
Ankara pointedly let it be known that if a Leopard 2 upgrade were allowed to proceed, Yücel would be released back to Germany. Though Berlin publicly insisted it would never agree to such a quid pro quo, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel quietly began moving towards authorizing the upgrade in a bid to improve relations in the face of what looks suspiciously like tank-based blackmail. Gabriel presented the deal as a measure to protect Turkish soldiers’ lives from ISIS.
However, in mid-January 2018, Turkey launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclaves of Afrin and Manbij in northwestern Syria. The attack was precipitated generally by Turkish fears that effective Kurdish control of the Syrian border would lead to a de facto state that would expand into Turkish territory, and proximately by an announcement by the Pentagon that it was recruiting the Kurds to form a “border security force” to continue the fight against ISIS.
However, photos on social media soon emerged showing that Leopard 2 tanks were being employed to blast Kurdish positions in Afrin, where there have several dozen civilian casualties have been reported. Furthermore, on January 21, the Kurdish YPG published a YouTube video depicting a Turkish Leopard 2 being struck by a Konkurs antitank missiles. However, it is not possible to tell if the tank was knocked out; the missile may have struck the Leopard 2’s front armor, which is rated as equivalent to 590 to 690 millimeters of rolled homogenous armor on the 2A4, while the two types of Konkurs missiles can penetrate six or eight hundred millimeters of RHA.
In any event, parliamentarians both from German left-wing parties and Merkel’s right-wing Christian Democratic Union reacted with outrage, with a member of the latter describing the Turkish offensive as a violation of international law. On January 25, the Merkel administration was forced to announce that an upgrade to the Leopard 2 was off the table, at least for now. Ankara views the deal as merely postponed, and cagey rhetoric from Berlin suggests it may return to the deal at a more politically opportune time.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: Wikimedia Commons