The German goverment has announced plans to keep hundreds of troops in Afghanistan after NATO’s combat operations there end next year. The Bundeswehr is to play a role in training Afghan security forces.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced on Thursday that Berlin planned to keep between 600 and 800 soldiers in Afghanistan.
The troops are to be stationed in the capital, Kabul, as well as the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for a two-year period beginning in 2015. The Bundeswehr personnel would provide advice, support and training to Afghan troops, but would not engage in combat missions.
"This offer is a declaration of intent by the federal government," said de Maiziere. "Germany is taking an early and timely position on this important question."
The minister added that the offer was conditional on the Afghan government issuing a formal request to Berlin. "We want to be welcome," said de Maiziere.
NATO has already said it plans to keep 8,000 to 12,000 support personnel in Afghanistan when the alliance's combat role ceases at the end of 2014. However, the German government had not until now disclosed how many military personnel it would contribute.
The number of troops staying behind would be about one-sixth of the current force of 4,100 deployed either in Afghanistan or at a staging post in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Also present at the press conference was German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who declared the planned handover of combat operations to be a "historic milestone."
After the United States and Britain, Germany provides the third-biggest military contingent in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Kabul blasts asylum offers
In a separate development on Thursday, Germany granted asylum to an Afghan employed by German forces on the grounds that he might face Taliban retaliation after the ISAF withdrawal.
While the case would appear to set a precedent, the number of other similar asylum cases was understood to be in the "low double digits."
Some 1,500 locals work for Germany's armed forces, many of them as interpreters, with Berlin facing the dilemma of how they might be relocated and earn a livelihood after the withdrawal.
The Afghan government was on Thursday was reported to have protested at the potential offer of asylum to its citizens who work for the Bundeswehr.
German news magazine Spiegel cited a verbal Afghan government statement that such offers would create "fear, anxiety and concern" and that it would have the effect of “demoralizing the Afghan population."
rc/jr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)