US acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan (right) welcomes German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen during a ceremony at the Pentagon on April 12, 2019. Photo: Mandel Ngan | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States thanked German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen for her country's contributions to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), as her party fights its own political battle for more defense spending in Berlin.
Von der Leyen met with acting US counterpart Patrick Shanahan in Washington, D.C., on Friday to "to reaffirm the defense relationship between the United States and Germany."
"Secretary Shanahan also thanked Minister von der Leyen for Germany's contributions to international security in Afghanistan, Lithuania, and Mali, and its commitment [to] the global defeat-ISIS coalition," read a statement from the Pentagon.
At the end of last year, Von der Leyen pushed for her government to commit forces to the US-led international coalition's continued efforts in Iraq and Syria.
"He noted US appreciation for the German government's decision last month to extend its deployment mandate to the Resolute Support mission through March 2020," the statement added.
US President Donald Trump repeatedly has called on all NATO members to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the organization. As of 2018, Germany contributed
1.3 percent despite a booming economy.
"The military-to-military relationship between the US and Germany is one of the strongest in Europe," tweeted the US Department of Defense on Saturday.
Von der Leyen spoke to reporters after meeting with Shanahan. https://twitter.com/bundeswehrInfo/status/1116726808911798273
"I made it clear that Germany will remain in NATO," she said while reiterating that they will reach 1.5 percent of their GDP contribution to the organization by 2024.
"And then we will move towards the 2 percent," she added.
"Defence Minister von der Leyen [is shown] after her talks with the acting secretary of defense in the Pentagon in Washington. Themes included Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, NATO, and the German-American cooperation," the German Federal Armed Forces tweeted on Friday.
"We talked about various conflict areas," she said.
Von der Leyen emphasized it was "important for the international community to hear" from Shanahan that the Americans will continue operations in Afghanistan for stabilization purposes.
"We talked about Iraq and Syria. It was important for them to hear clearly that we will remain for the training of the security forces," she said.
She added that it was reassuring for Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi to visit Berlin and Washington to tell both nations that Baghdad wants continued training for Iraqi Security Forces.
"On Syria, the focus was the Syrian Democratic Forces," she said, adding that "terrorism" continues to pose a threat in the Middle East.
"Lasting stabilization" through the SDF will be the next point of emphasis, added Von der Leyen.
German politics an obstacle to NATO, coalition contributions
Von der Leyen is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party that Chancellor Angela Merkel headed until last year until being succeeded by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
Increasingly, the CDU has been unable to rely on their Social Democratic Party (SPD) partners in the coalition government when it comes to defense spending.
“The big problem we have is that the world has doubts whether it ... can rely on us, and it’s up to us as the CDU to lead, because I have the increasing impression that on this question, we cannot rely on our coalition partner,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said at a political rally in North Rhine-Westphalia .
Under SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz's budget plan announced last month, Germany would only contribute 1.25 percent of its GDP by 2023.
“If we have political forces in the Bundestag, and in parts of the coalition, who ... say they want to spend money on pensions, not weapons. Then I say, be honest and say you don’t want a German army," added Kramp-Karrenbauer.
Germany has been a critical nation in the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and in the NATO training mission in Iraq.
It has forces in Erbil and Baghdad where it trains, advises, and assists Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including the Peshmerga.
Von der Leyen came to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region in February. She ushered in the first phase of the first ever Peshmerga Hospital that Berlin allocated €6 million for.
Up to 150 German soldiers are based at the international anti-ISIS Combined Joint Operations Command Center in Erbil, where they have worked with Iraqi and Kurdish commanders, in addition to Peshmerga units through the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center (KTTC).