German MPs vote on Afghan mission, no new troops for now

4th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Germany currently has around 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, the third-largest contributor to the international force after the United States and Britain.

Berlin -- Germany's parliament was to vote Thursday on extending its Afghan mission, but Berlin refuses to even consider backing a new US surge with more troops until after an international conference in January.

Germany currently has around 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, the third-largest contributor to a 110,000-strong international force after the United States and Britain.

The Bundestag lower house was due to debate from 3:30 pm (1430 GMT) and then vote on extending the mission for one year, but the upper limit on troops was due to stay at 4,500.

Parliament was expected to approve the extension, which was signed off by the newly re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on November 18.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that alliance members would send at least 5,000 troops to back the new US surge of 30,000 extra soldiers announced by President Barack Obama this week.

Announcing the new surge, Obama vowed to "seize the initiative" to end the conflict and start a pullout in July 2011, nearly 10 years since Western troops forced the Taliban out of Kabul.

According to French officials, the United States has asked Germany to provide 2,000 more troops, France and Italy 1,500 each and Britain 1,000.

A handful of media reports in recent weeks have said that Merkel's government was already considering an increase of around this size.

Britain currently has about 9,500 troops in the international force, France 3,300 and Italy 2,800.

Britain has promised to send another 500 troops and a source in the Italian defence ministry told AFP that the country will send between 500 and 1,500 troop reinforcements in 2010.

Germany and France have both said they will wait until a London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 to decide on further action.

"Before the conference on Afghanistan and the strategic discussions that will take place during that conference, a debate on troop levels and German participation is neither sensible nor appropriate," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner promised Paris would consider its stance in the run-up to the conference, but suggested any extras would be civilians, police or technicians.

Karl Lamers, a defence expert with Merkel's Christian Democrats, said Thursday that the fresh mandate could be altered at a later date if necessary.

"If there is a new situation after the Afghanistan conference, a new political assessment after the talks in London about goals and expectations of the Afghan government and the allies, then we will adjust the mandate accordingly," he told public broadcaster Deutschlandradio.

Berlin stresses that stabilising Afghanistan will not be achieved through military means alone, and is keen to do more to train the Afghan police.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the German daily Handelsblatt Thursday that he had understanding for Merkel's position.

Germany's troops are based in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan, but the security situation there has worsened in recent months. Since the start of the mission 36 German soldiers have died.

Polls have suggested that the mission is opposed by a majority of voters.

Germany's top general resigned last week, followed by the former defence minister, over the handling of an air strike on September 4 ordered by a German commander in which dozens of civilians are believed to have died.

Simon Sturdee/AFP/Expatica

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