Germany to send up to 2,400 troops to Lebanon
13 September 2006
BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday the German government had approved sending frigates and fast patrol boats with up to 2,400 navy troops to secure Lebanon’s coast as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force for the country.
“This is a mission unlike any other … for me it has an historic dimension,” said Merkel in reference to what will be the first German military deployment in the Middle East since World War II.
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said the 2,400 troop figure was the maximum possible number of soldiers and that a smaller number would actually be deployed.
Initially, said Jung, there would be 1,500 German soldiers patrolling an area from the Lebanese coastline extending out 50 sea miles. The mission’s mandate will initially be limited through August 31, 2007.
Two frigates, four fast patrol boats, two supply ships, one tender, and two helicopters will be deployed by Germany in cooperation with naval forces being sent by the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, said Merkel and Jung.
The main task of the force will be stop smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon. Jung vowed the German navy would carry out searches of suspicious ships – even against the will of captains who tried to evade controls.
Merkel stressed, however, that the mission had a “robust … but not offensive mandate.”
The chancellor said a Lebanese naval liaison officer would be aboard one of the German ships “but there would be no chance for a veto” from the Lebanese.
Merkel earlier ruled out sending ground troops to join UN forces in Lebanon due to the fear, as she put it, that Germans could even “accidentally” aim their weapons at Israelis.
“This mission comes in view of our special responsibility for Israel,” said Merkel, in reference to the Holocaust.
Parliament still must give a final green light for the deployment but Merkel is expected to win easy approval given her grand coalition’s big majority in the Bundestag. The vote is expected to be on September 20.
German naval vessels would then be able to arrive off the Lebanese coast by early October, given that it takes about 10 days for ships to travel from the North Sea to the eastern Mediterranean.
Germany is already providing a small number of border police and customs officials to be stationed at Beirut International Airport to supervise incoming cargo.
The UN is deploying a 15,000-member peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon under a ceasefire agreement which last month ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon.
Subject: German news