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Bundestag to debate military action in Syria

Germany's cabinet has resolved the country will join the fight against the "Islamic State" group in Syria. Now it's up to parliament to approve what would be Germany's biggest military mission since Afghanistan.

Political debate over German military intervention in Syria is set to begin Wednesday inside the Bundestag in Berlin. That's following the

cabinet's decision Tuesday

to deploy up to 1,200 soldiers, six

Tornado reconnaissance jets,

tanker aircraft and a frigate to support the international coalition fighting IS.

"We are expanding this participation in the existing alliance with a fight against the same IS but now in Syria," said Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pledged France "any and all assistance" after the

November 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.

The mandate is for one year at a cost of 134 million euros ($142 million) and can be extended in 2016.

The vote in the Bundestag, Germany's lower legislative body, is set for Friday, with approval considered virtually guaranteed. Merkel's "grand coalition" government has an overwhelming majority.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the daily "Bild" newspaper that he expected some skepticism among lawmakers, but felt the plan would succeed.

"We are doing what is militarily needed, what we can do best and can accept politically," he said. "We need patience against an enemy like IS."

Skepticism outside the grand coalition

Deutschland Bundeswehr Tankflugzeug Airbus 310 MRTT

The military mandate is expected to pass the Bundestag, where the CDU-CSU and their Social Democratic (SPD) coalition partners have a large majority

Most lawmakers in the Left and Green parties are expected to oppose the military mandate in the Bundestag and possibly appeal to the country's constitutional court.

"This deployment is combustible and politically and militarily wrong," said Green Party lawmaker Hans-Christian Ströbele. "Showing solidarity with France cannot mean undertaking something that's wrong."

The armed forces union, the Bundeswehrverband, also said its rank-and-file members had concerns. Union chief Andre Wuestner told public broadcaster ARD that the fighting would be likely to last "far more than 10 years" and urged political leaders to devise a "clearly defined mission" for the military.

But Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has sought to reassure the public, saying that Germany had not been drawn into war against its will but had taken a conscious decision to get involved. She also ruled out coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose government, with the help of Russia and Iran, is also fighting against IS.

"The top line is: there will be no cooperation with Assad and no cooperation with troops under his command," she said, although she did not rule out including pro-Assad factions in a long-term political solution.

Military officials say two Tornados and a tanker could be sent to the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey as early as next week - provided lawmakers approve the plan by Friday. But for logistical reasons, reconnaissance flights wouldn't begin until January.

Largest mission since Afghanistan

The Bundeswehr's current largest foreign mission is a

NATO training mission in Afghanisan

, where less than 1,000 troops are assisting Afghan security forces. Germany previously fielded some 5,000 soldiers in the country during a combat mission.

This week's proposed mandate would also cover a deployment of up to 650 soldiers to the west African nation

Mali to provide assistance to French forces

fighting Islamist militants.

The Bundestag will further be asked to approve provisions for emergency medical assistance for France in the case of more "catastrophic events," and a still-to-be-determined amount of additional humanitarian aid for refugees and displaced people in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries.

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jar/gsw (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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