Germany to extend Afghanistan mission

19th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The lengthening of the mandate -- as well as the number of troops Berlin can send to the war-torn nation, currently capped at 4,500 -- is subject to parliamentary approval before it expires in December.

Berlin -- Germany agreed Wednesday to extend by one year its mission in Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, as her foreign minister warned German troops will not be there forever.

"In a regular cabinet meeting, we decided to get the process of extending the mandate underway," Merkel told reporters.

The lengthening of the mandate -- as well as the number of troops Berlin can send to the war-torn nation, currently capped at 4,500 -- is subject to parliamentary approval before it expires in December.

Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Guido Westerwelle said: "With this, we want to send a clear signal. The new federal government is sticking by Germany's international responsibilities."

"Our partners should know that our country remains a reliable partner for peace and security in the world," he added.

Taking aim at the government in Kabul, he said: "It is about more than security, it is also about reconstruction and it is about good leadership, including the fight against corruption."

"We do not want this to be a mission that lasts forever and a day," Westerwelle insisted.

Merkel's new coalition had already pledged to extend the mandate in their government programme drawn up after elections on September 27.

Germany currently has around 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, based in the relatively peaceful north of the country, which has become more violent in recent months.

According to the current mandate, the upper limit is 4,500 troops, and this will not be altered in the new version sent to parliament, said a government statement following a two-day meeting of Merkel's cabinet outside Berlin.

"The upper limit for personnel is still 4,500 soldiers. They will be deployed in future in the north of the country and in Kabul," the statement said.

The German contingent is the third-biggest in a 100,000-strong international force including around 65,000 under NATO command but Berlin has come under pressure from its allies to send more troops for a counter-insurgency push.

The mission has also become increasingly unpopular at home with the latest opinion polls showing a majority of Germans opposed to the presence of troops in the war-torn nation.

On Friday, Berlin announced it would send an extra 120 troops to the northern province of Kunduz in mid-January, but this still falls within the 4,500-limit.

Merkel has refused to consider sending more before an international conference in early 2010 to hammer out a strategy on handing over security responsibilities to the Afghans so that foreign troops can go home.

The cabinet also decided to scrap a mission to send AWACS surveillance planes to Afghanistan after Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan refused to allow NATO to fly them through their airspace.

The German army's participation in a mission to fight piracy off the coast of Lebanon was also extended by six months. An anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa was also prolonged.

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is due to discuss the Afghan mission with his French counterpart Herve Morin in Paris before flying to Washington for talks with US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.

AFP/Expatica

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