Germany's parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a one-year extension of the Bundeswehr's Afghanistan mandate. The decision comes a day after a grenade attack on a German camp in Kunduz injured five.
Not coming home for long
A large majority of Social Democrat, Green and opposition conservative Christian Democratic parliaments voted in favor of extending the German armed forces mandate in Afghanistan for another year.
The extension ensures that a maximum number of 2,250 German troops can continue their role in the multi-national ISAF NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kabul and its surroundings as well as their work in two provincial reconstruction teams in Kunduz and Faizabad in northern Afghanistan.
The current mandate of the German troops expires on Oct.13.
"No guarantee against attacks"
Bundeswehr soldiers carry a coffin of a colleague who was killed along with three other German soldiers in a bomb attack in Kabul on June 7, 2003.
Thursday's decision comes on the heels of another surge in violence in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, a grenade attack on a German camp in Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan injured five soldiers, three of them German. Though the soldiers are now said to be out of danger, the incident underlined the continuing danger and security threat in the volatile country.
Earlier German Defense Minister Peter Struck said he saw no connection between Wednesday’s rocket attack and the prolongation of the Bundeswehr mandate. Struck said the attack was a sign that the extension of the mandate "shouldn't be seen as simply routine."
"There is no one hundred percent guarantee against attacks of this kind," Struck said, adding that German soldiers in Afghanistan weren't questioning their commitment there.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck, left, with Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan
Struck also said that attacks had been expected in the run-up to the October 9th presidential election in Afghanistan.
“Our teams in northern Afghanistan will be reinforced early next year by 80 troops from the Czech Republic and Denmark," he said. "We’re convinced that our efforts to stabilize peace and security in the region will not be in vain."
The German government has been supported by the CDU in its commitment in Afghanistan.
"You can't withdraw soldiers just because it really is getting dangerous," Christian Schmidt, the CDU's parliamentary spokesman on defense affairs, said on Thursday. At the same time the party has emphasized that the contingents in northern Afghanistan had to be beefed up to be made more secure.
FDP: half-hearted mission
But like in the past, the opposition Liberal Democrats (FDP) remained opposed to an extended mandate.
FDP parliamentarians said the work of the provincial reconstruction teams there could not be called a success story, as their mission did not include the fight against drug cultivation and trafficking. FDP defense spokesman Werner Hoyer also criticized that the original concept of building up a network of Provisional Reconstruction Teams across the country had not materialized in any way, as other NATO members had not provided enough resources to join the campaign.
“A closely-knit network of PRTs across Afghanistan would be required to extend the central government’s influence to the provinces which are mostly under the control of warlords," Hoyer said. "But apart from a few exceptions in the north, nothing has happened on this front so far. And I can’t see much progress being made in the months to come despite the desperate campaigning by the NATO secretary-general in recent weeks.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs on his election registration card in Kabul in January, 2004
The FDP believes that it would have been a better idea to separate the uncontroversial mandate for Kabul from the one for northern Afghanistan. There is cross-party agreement, though, that a withdrawal of troops in general would have sent a devastating political signal to the Karzai government.
Schröder might drop Afghanistan visit
However, Wednesday’s rocket attack may have changed Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s original decision to visit Kabul on Oct. 11 as part of his planned tour of Asia next week.
A spokesman for the chancellery said on Thursday that the security situation on the ground would be followed closely. A final decision on whether Schröder would include Kabul in his itinerary would only be taken at a date close to his departure for Asia, he added.