German lawmakers extend Afghan mission
Lawmakers approved Friday a 12-month extension of Germany's unpopular Afghanistan mission, but with the proviso for the first time that troops start coming home from the end of 2011 -- if security allows.
Under the mandate approved by a large majority of lawmakers in the Bundestag lower house, Germany can continue to deploy a maximum of 5,350 troops until January 31, 2012. At present Germany has 4,860 soldiers there.
"The German government is confident that it will be able reduce the presence of the Bundeswehr from the end of 2011 as part of a security handover (to the Afghans)," according to the parliamentary motion.
"It will use every opportunity that security allows for a reduction as soon as possible, provided the situation allows this and that neither our troops nor the sustainability of the handover process are put in danger."
In total, 420 MPs were in favour, 116 against and 23 abstained.
NATO member Germany is the third largest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the United States and Britain, based mostly in the relatively peaceful north of the country.
The mission is deeply unpopular with the German public, however, surveys shown, and the north has become more dangerous of late. Since the US-led invasion in 2001, 45 German troops have lost their lives there.
"Today marks a real change in the context of the Afghanistan intervention," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
"This means that we want to begin this year to hand over responsibility at regional level and then at the end of the year to start to reduce the presence of the Bundeswehr.
"And we want to make sure that by 2014 there is no longer any need for German troops in Afghanistan."
Chancellor Angela Merkel was not present for the vote because she was due at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
© 2011 AFP