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Germany

First Afghanistan and Somalia, now Kuwait

After German troops departed for Afghanistan yesterday, the German Defense Ministry announced that a small contingent would be on the way to the Arabian peninsula by mid-January.

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German soldiers board a plane for Afghanistan on January 8

As the first contingent of German troops departed for Afghanistan on Tuesday, the German government announced plans to broaden the scope of its overseas military commitment to include the Arabian peninsula.

The German Defense Ministry said it would deploy an advance team of soldiers specialized in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to the Arabian peninsula within the next few days as part of its agreement to assist the American-led war against terrorism.

The German public television station ZDF reported that an initial team of 50 soldiers would be sent to Kuwait to carry out reconnaissance operations in preparation for a full force of 250 troops.

The German Defense Minister, Rudolf Scharping, refused to comment on the reports when asked on Tuesday, saying no final decision had yet been made.

On Wednesday the spokesman for the German army confirmed the announcement of deployment in the region of the Arabian peninsula, but refused to give any further details, saying more information could compromise the safety of the soldiers and the security of the operation.

The spokesman responded to reporters questions and speculations by restating the facts: "On November 16, 2001, the German parliament agreed to provide up to 800 soldiers trained in the detection of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons for the international military operation Enduring Freedom."

"The personnel for such a mission have already been selected and are involved in preparations for deployment... A possible contingent of advance forces could be sent to the Arabian peninsula," the spokesman said.

A growing war?

The announcement to send troops to Kuwait comes as US leaders debate the possibility of launching an attack against the forces of Saddam Hussein as part of the war on terrorism. Iraq has in the past been a frequent target for US air strikes, and in the last few days many influential public officials have come out in favor of a preemptive strike against Baghdad. They cite involvement in the production of biological and chemical weapons as reason enough for expanding the war on terrorism to include Iraq.

The German press agency ddp has said that the planned deployment to the Arabian peninsula is part of a much larger US-led mission directed against Iraq. But on Wednesday, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said, "There is no indication of planning such a military attack against Iraq."

Expanding the war against terrorism to include an attack against Iraq would not meet with wide-spread German approval. Already politicians are skeptical about the deployment of soldiers so close to the Iraqi border.

Military expert Jürgen Koppelin from the party of Free Democrats (FDP) demanded that the German Defense Ministry provide more precise information on whether or not Iraq was being designated as the next "flash point". Minister Scharping should inform parliament before such a decision is taken, Koppelin said.

Back in December German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder issued warnings to the US on the dangers of extending the war to Iraq, saying that "more could blow up in our faces there than any of us realize."

And Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, "All European nations would view a broadening of the conflict to include Iraq highly skeptically – and that is putting it diplomatically."

So far, though, neither of the German leaders has come out with a statement on the newest troop deployments.

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