German MPs debate Afghan mission extension
Germany's parliament Friday began debating whether to extend the country's unpopular mission in Afghanistan by a year, as Berlin eyes an eventual withdrawal from the war-torn region.
The vote to increase the mandate of the mission, due next Friday, is not expected to be close as the main opposition party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have said they will vote in favour.
Germany currently has around 4,700 troops serving in Afghanistan, the third-largest contingent in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, most of them in the north of the country.
Polls have consistently shown the deployment is unpopular and 45 service personnel have lost their lives there.
Berlin has said it wants to start reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan by the end of 2011 "if the situation allows" with a view to pulling out completely by 2014.
Opening the debate, Development Minister Dirk Niebel said: "A great deal has improved in Afghanistan", citing economic growth, improved medical facilities and better education prospects.
Nevertheless, he bemoaned a "serious deficit on all levels" of government in Afghanistan.
Germany is the third-largest provider of development aid, after the United States and Japan, Niebel said. Between 2010 and 2013, Germany has pledged an annual 430 million euros (582 million dollars) for Afghanistan.
In February 2010, parliament voted to extend and boost its presence in Afghanistan for a year to a maximum of 5,000 troops with an additional "flexible reserve" of 350.
The new mandate, if approved in parliament, would run until the end of February 2012.
On a visit to Afghanistan in December, Merkel said for the first time that German troops were fighting a "war" against the Taliban insurgency there.
"What we have here is not just a warlike situation," she told the troops in Kunduz, in the north of the country.
"You are involved in combat as in war."
© 2011 AFP