German Defense Minister Struck has confirmed Afghanistan, though “dangerous”, will be the new focal point for future foreign military deployments and German troops will be reduced in the Balkans.
Security concerns still cloud a planned German deployment to northern Afghanistan.
After the controversial decision this week to send German peacekeepers to the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, taking them outside the capital Kabul for the first time, German Defense Minister Peter Struck went a step further over the weekend.
In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, the defense minister said he estimated troops would remain in the country for several years. In December this year, the German parliament is expected to extend Germany’s Afghanistan mandate by a year. "It the parliament does approve, then German soldiers will possibly support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan for several years," he said. Afghanistan, he said, will be "the focal point for German foreign deployments."
Struck: Afghan deployment "very dangerous"
German defense minister Peter Struck
The minister (photo) added the Afghanistan deployment remained "very dangerous". He said there was no foolproof protection against attacks, but added, "This terror isn’t perpetrated by Afghans, but rather by the Taliban and al Qaeda." The Afghans, Struck said, didn’t look upon the Germans as an occupying force.
At the same time the minister stressed that a larger German peacekeeping force in Afghanistan was only possible if German troop presence in the Balkans was scaled back. "We want to end our Macedonia mandate early next year and gradually reduce German presence in Kosovo and Bosnia," the minister announced.
Concern over relevant U.N. mandate
Struck’s comments come at a time when there is growing resistance in the German government against sending about 250 German soldiers to Kunduz before the U.N. expands the mandate for the multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently only operates in and around Kabul for security reasons.
Both Struck and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek Zeul, back from a one-day visit to Kabul, have voiced concern that Chancellor Schröder could be considering giving the go-ahead for troops without waiting for the U.N. decision. "A resolution by the U.N. Security Council is indispensable," Zeul said on Friday.
Schröder insisted this week that he didn’t want German soldiers to go to Kunduz under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom, the anti-terror operation run by Washington, but rather under the U.N. At the same time the chancellor said the Kunduz deployment couldn’t wait until the upcoming general examination of the ISAF force in December.
"It has become clear that, on the one hand, the extension of the (peacekeeping) process makes sense and is necessary to stabilize the central government in Afghanistan; and on the other hand, that it is responsible as far as the security of the soldiers is concerned,'' Schroeder told reporters earlier this week.
Other western nations so far have reluctant in endorsing an expansion of the ISAF mission beyond Kabul in the face of persistent security concerns. Even within Germany, there are worries following the June 7 deaths of four German soldiers in a suicide attack in Kabul.
In any case, the deployment of German soldiers to Kunduz will have to be approved by the German parliament.
German soldiers in ISAF
Germany currently has 2,000 soldiers serving in ISAF in Afghanistan and 200 more, also under the ISAF umbrella, in Uzbekistan. There are also up to 100 German special forces in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The 250 soldiers who will head to Kunduz will provide security cover for provincial reconstruction teams, charged with rebuilding infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals and training the police and army.