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Germany

Afghanistan Dispute Could Top Security Conference Agenda

The debate in NATO about troop commitments to Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently in the annual Munich Security Conference that opens in the Bavarian capital on Friday, Feb. 8.

A German ISAF soldier in the city of Kunduz, Northern Afghanistan

Germany is still under pressure to send combat troops to Southern Afghanistan

The demand by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more troops has placed Washington's European partners in the alliance on the defensive, conference organizer Horst Teltschik said Sunday.

Some 350 high-caliber politicians and military leaders are due to take part in the three-day gathering, which will be opened with a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Gates, US Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov will be there along with the presidents of Georgia, Macedonia and Moldova.

More than 40 foreign and defense ministers have pledged to attend the conference, the slogan of which is "a world in disarray -- shifting powers -- lack of strategies."

Teltschik said the number of conflicts in the world was growing and the international community was becoming less certain of how to deal with them.

International stability a priority for NATO

Among the other topics under discussion will be the future of NATO, the role China and Japan can play in international stability, Kosovo and Russia's relations with the West, Teltschik said.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will be joining in the talks, he said.

Representing Germany will be Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, who on Friday rejected Gates' request to send combat troops to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in southern Afghanistan.

Steinmeier said he would use the conference to press for a greater commitment to arms control and a dialogue along the lines of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that led to a significant reduction in Cold War tensions in the mid-1970s.

"Security is not created through the possession of weapons, but through the creation of trust as well," the foreign minister told the German daily Handelsblatt.

NATO chief reiterates call for German troops

Scheffer again pressed Germany to deploy combat troops in Afghanistan after the country rejected a US call, Bild newspaper said Sunday.

"Germany does a commendable job as the nation in command of forces in the north. But in my opinion the international forces need more of this elsewhere in Afghanistan too," he told the newspaper in an interview.

Scheffer said he was trying to persuade a number of nations to play a bigger role in the battle against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

German soldiers stand alert near an explosion site on the outskirts of Kabul

NATO wants to end the caveats which prevent combat involvement

"I am trying to secure more flexibility from all nations with regard to deploying combat troops. I take note of the fact that many nations have restrictions on sending troops into battle and I am trying to reduce these restrictions as far as possible," he told the newspaper.

US goes public with demands

Pressure on Germany to help fight a Taliban onslaught grew last week when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly sent an "unusually stern" letter to his German counterpart demanding troops and helicopters.

It was part of a US diplomatic offensive to shore up more support for the Afghanistan mission amid fears that allies are abandoning a cornerstone of the US-led "War on Terror."

But Defense Minister Jung on Friday ruled out stationing soldiers in the south, saying the German mandate did not allow for sending troops into the turbulent region. Germany currently has about 3,100 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Nearly all of them are deployed in the capital Kabul and the north as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which comprises 42,000 troops from 39 countries.

German reluctance could spread through NATO

A German soldier helps an Afghan mother with the shoes for her child

Germany's reconstruction and security role will remain

Commanders in Afghanistan have called for around 7,500 extra troops to be deployed in the south and there are fears that Germany's reluctance could influence other countries' decisions on their role in Afghanistan.

Canada warned last week that it could withdraw its 2,500 troops if NATO fails to send reinforcements to the south, a risk that appears heightened by Germany's stance.

NATO at the weekend signaled that it wanted to take the initiative on bringing member states to deploy more troops back from Washington.

A spokesman said Scheffer was concerned that "very public calls" for more troops for Afghanistan made it look as if allies lacked solidarity and would prefer NATO to handle the issue "quietly."

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