Germany to send air crews to Afghanistan

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Germany will send up to 300 crew members to operate surveillance planes in Afghanistan in a bid to free up NATO resources enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya, Angela Merkel's cabinet decided Wednesday.

"The federal government will make available up to 300 army troops for the AWACS surveillance flights over Afghanistan within the framework of NATO's ISAF mission," the defence ministry said in a statement.

Germany is the third-largest provider of troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in a mission that polls show is deeply unpopular at home.

Speaking before the cabinet meeting, Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said: "This is a real easing of the burden on NATO. It is a political sign of our solidarity with the alliance, especially given the events in Libya."

Germany has decided not to participate in the military action against Moamer Khadafi's regime and abstained on the United Nations resolution that established the no-fly zone.

As a result, Berlin on Tuesday withdrew its warships from a NATO operation in the Mediterranean that was enforcing a UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that the deployment would not take Germany over its mandated upper limit of 5,350 troops in Afghanistan.

NATO agreed to deploy the Airborne Warning and Control System planes, which are fitted with long-range radar allowing them to detect other aircraft and prevent mid-air collisions, to Afghanistan in January.

Some 17 countries are participating in the AWACS base, based in Geilenkirchen, in western Germany.

The cabinet's decision has to be approved in parliament, probably on Friday.

© 2011 AFP

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