Germany should expect US pressure to continue unless Berlin expands its Afghanistan military mission, a key official said. The Defense Ministry plans to decide on a US request to widen combat operations on Wednesday.
Where in Afghanistan the Bundeswehr can operate is set by parliamentary mandate
The German government coordinator for German-American relations, Karsten Voigt, said Berlin was likely to continue facing requests from the United States and NATO to expand its military mission outside the relatively safe northern Afghanistan.
"The Americans want Europe to become more engaged in the military as well organizing police and civilian reconstruction efforts," he told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung has rejected calls from both NATO and the United States to send combat units to southern Afghanistan and is likely to emphasize that position in a press conference on Wednesday.
Jung is, however, also expected to approve the deployment of some 240 combat troops to a NATO Quick Reaction Force for northern Afghanistan. The troops would replace Norwegian soldiers who are leaving the country in the summer.
Not a bilateral issue
In the past, Jung has refused to station troops in southern Afghanistan
"We are not being choosy, but are prepared to take on responsibility," deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters in Berlin, adding that the situation in northern Afghanistan is not stable enough to warrant stationing Bundeswehr troops to other parts of the country.
"We see our responsibility as being in northern Afghanistan," Steg said. "That's where we aim to be successful, and that's how it will remain."
Under current mandates, Germany can station up to 3,500 troops in northern Afghanistan as part of the 40,000-strong NATO International Security Assistance Force.
Germany does not expect the issue of troop deployments to add tension to its ties to the United States other NATO members, according to Steg.
"This is not a bilateral question directed at German-US ties," he said, adding that a request for more troops from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was sent to several European NATO members.
Political division remain
The government says current mandates allow committing troops to NATO's Quick Reaction Force
While the German public remains largely opposed to increasing the Bundeswehr's commitments in Afghanistan, politicians are divided on what exactly the country's role in Afghanistan should be.
Breaking ranks with other members of his party, Social Democratic Party lawmaker Hans-Ulrich Klose, deputy head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the German military's mandate should not set geographic boundaries.
"Germany should take over the Quick Reaction Force and make it strong enough for it to be deployed to the whole of Afghanistan in case of emergency -- including the south," he told the mass-market Bild newspaper. "There may well be situations in which it is inevitable to fight."
He added that NATO was an alliance based on solidarity and that all countries should "carry the same risk."
Bundeswehr approaching limits
There are ways to help Afghans beyond more troops, politicians said
Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said the US should not expect too much as Germany's military capabilities were reaching their limits.
Naming helicopters as an example of equipment needed, he said, "Unfortunately, we don't have them."
"There [are] no used helicopter sellers around the corner where we can say, 'let's buy it,'" he added.
Military row overshadows humanitarian crisis
In the opposition, the free-market liberal FDP defense expert Birgit Homburger said armed troops were not the only way to help Afghans.
"Sending more and more soldiers will certainly not bring success to the Afghanistan mission," she said.
The opposition Green party also said Germany needs to stay aware of the humanitarian problems in Afghanistan instead of focusing on military deployments.
"While NATO defense ministers and some foreign policy officials have lashed out at each other over who is militarily responsible for what, they're forgetting the people they're in the country to help," said Fritz Kuhn, the Greens parliamentary leader.