Germany to Send More Troops to Afghanistan

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BERLIN, June 24 -- Germany pledged Tuesday to contribute up to 1,000 more troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, responding to months of pleas from the United States and other allies to bulk up its peacekeeping force.

"The security situation has become more difficult," Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said at a news conference. "The increase is necessary to give us more flexibility to respond to challenges."

Like most of the 3,500 German troops already in Afghanistan, however, the additional forces will be limited to duties in the country's northern provinces, where the level of violence and conflict is relatively low. Canada and Britain, which make up NATO contingents in the more volatile southern part of Afghanistan, have been asking for reinforcements for months.

Germany's participation in the Afghan security mission is unpopular with voters, opinion surveys show, making lawmakers reluctant to send more troops.

But German military commanders have been increasingly outspoken recently on the need for reinforcements.

In April, Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the highest-ranking officer in the German military, said that Germany's forces near the northeastern city of Kunduz faced a growing threat from Taliban and other insurgents and that he was handicapped by parliamentary limits on the number of troops he could deploy.

"This takes away flexibility for me to react quickly to any worsening in the situation," he told Focus magazine.

On Sunday, German Army Gen. Egon Ramms, a top NATO commander, said the alliance needed up to 6,000 more troops in Afghanistan immediately. The present shortage, he said, risked delaying an eventual withdrawal by several years.

"We need these soldiers very soon, as we need to hold onto certain areas," Ramms said in an interview on German public radio. "We need to create trust among the Afghan population, because we want to hand over this responsibility in 2010, 2011 or 2012 to the Afghan forces when they are prepared."

NATO has about 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than half of them American.

The German troop increase requires the approval of the lower house of Parliament. But lawmakers and analysts said the coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel had the votes to pass the measure easily.

Germany's current commitment of 3,500 troops in Afghanistan is set to expire in October. The expansion, if lawmakers approve it, would last until December 2009, shortly after Germany's next round of federal elections.

In April, France announced that it would send an extra battalion of 700 soldiers to eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. France currently has a contingent of about 1,500 troops in the country.

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