Struck spotlights German help for Iraqi forces

9th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

9 June 2005, BRUSSELS - Speaking at a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, German defence minister Peter Struck spotlighted Berlin's efforts to train Iraqi security forces in Abu Dhabi, saying the decision not to send German soldiers into Iraq had proved to be correct.

9 June 2005

BRUSSELS - Speaking at a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, German defence minister Peter Struck spotlighted Berlin's efforts to train Iraqi security forces in Abu Dhabi, saying the decision not to send German soldiers into Iraq had proved to be correct.

Struck warned against any reversal of Germany's Iraq policy in the event of an election victory for the conservative opposition in autumn, saying he was convinced that if former opposition leader Edmund Stoiber had been elected chancellor in 2002, German soldiers would now be in Iraq "with all the terrible consequences facing foreign troops."

The German defence chief said not enough importance was being given to Berlin's training scheme in Abu Dhabi for Iraqi soldiers and the provision of equipment including lorries to Iraqi troops.

"It is not important where the training takes place...it is important that there is training," Struck insisted.

German soldiers represented 20 percent of the 25,000 soldiers deployed by Nato, including missions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, he said.

Meanwhile figures released by the 26-nation alliance at the meeting showed that a majority of Nato governments are slipping on their commitment to keep defence spending above 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The statistics showed that only eight Nato members were sticking to an informal understanding reached at the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague to keep defence budgets over 2 percent of GDP.

The United States, which spent 3.7 percent of GDP on defence in 2004 was the top military spender, followed by Greece with 2.9 percent of GDP used for defence and Turkey with 2.8 percent of GDP spent on the military sector.

Germany spent 1.4 percent of GDP on defence, according to the statistics. In contrast, the French and British governments earmarked 2.6 percent and 2.3 percent of GDP respectively for defence.

"Much remains to be done," Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told ministers. Making a success of initiatives like the creation of a Nato Response Force required "remedying shortfalls in critical areas," he said.

Nato ministers are also expected to focus on the alliance's decision to provide air transport to African Union troops in Darfur and help for upcoming elections in Afghanistan.

Nato agreed this week to coordinate the African strategic airlift operation with the European Union which has also vowed to help transport African troops to Darfur.

Coordination between the two organisations will take place through a special office under African Union auspices to be set up in Addis Ababa, Nato officials said.

German defence minister Peter Struck told reporters there must be no rivalries in Darfur between the alliance and the EU.

Germany had already said it was ready to fly African soldiers to Darfur and provide equipment such as electricity generators, Struck said.

Asked whether Berlin would be acting through Nato or the EU, Struck said just how the help was given to the African Union was not important.

"The discussion is superfluous. One has to agree to help ... how this is coordinated and who is in charge is of secondary importance," he insisted.

Struck also urged United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan to ensure that the Sudanese government did not obstruct the deployment of a larger African Union force in Darfur.

It was unacceptable that soldiers were being given only a four week-travel visa, he said.

Struck reaffirmed Germany's readiness to take over responsibility for Nato forces in the entire northern region of Afghanistan, saying he was hoping for a parliamentary go-ahead for more German troops for the country.

The current number of German troops in Afghanistan is restricted to 2,250.

Nato ministers are expected to discuss Afghan president Hamid Karzai's demands that the alliance provide support for upcoming parliamentary elections in his country in autumn.

Officials said Nato was ready to provide three additional battalions - representing about 2,200 troops - to help stabilise Afghanistan ahead of the upcoming polls.

Scheffer warned ministers that the situation in Afghanistan continued to cause concern. Recent violence in the country showed that there was no room for "excessive optimism," he warned.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) extended its operations in the west of Afghanistan last month.

The focus must now be on improving "synergies" between ISAF and the US 'Enduring Freedom' mission which is striving to track down anti-government Taleban forces in the south of the country, Scheffer said.

DPA

Subject: German news

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