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Europe

Germany May Lead Afghan Force

US Secretary of State Colin Powell's suggestion Saturday that Germany could lead peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan has been welcomed in Berlin.

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German soldiers like these in Macedonia could be in for a more demanding and dangerous assignment

In anticipation of such a possibility, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for "a clear separation between the current deployment against the Taliban and UN troops to support the Petersberg (Bonn) agreement."

Germany's role in the conflict may be set to grow dramatically, once again, following its commitment of troops to the US-led war effort and its hosting of successful Afghan talks on government formation.

Britain could also lead the peacekeepers, Powell said.

A tentative date for deployment is December 22, the day Afghanistan's transitional government expects to take power in Kabul.

A tough assignment

But engineering the country's transition from war-zone to safe post-war society will be difficult. Arms and explosives are ubiquitous, poverty extreme, and tribal rivalries enduring. Yet for now the toughest question is, simply, timing.

Peacekeeping forces, as envisioned by the UN and Afghan leaders planning to form a transitional government, cannot enter the country yet.

The US military continues efforts to track down Taliban leaders and terror suspect Osama bin Laden, and officials in Washington have warned that no peacekeeping effort should deploy in Afghanistan without invitation from US commanders.

Yet most of the country is already liberated from Taliban forces, and US and allied forces on the ground are too small in number to secure it. For now, Northern Alliance forces and other anti-Taliban forces are doing the job.

Mandate needed

To take over this responsibility, German troops would likely need a fresh mandate from the parliament in Berlin, which narrowly authorized participation of 3,900 German soldiers in the war.

Post-war deployment is another matter, but one the parliament would most likely endorse. Even the traditionally pacifist-minded Greens have said they would support sending peacekeeping troops if the UN requested it.

Powell's suggestion that Germany take the peacekeeping lead, he said, was actually Schröder's idea.

"Chancellor Schröder earlier had expressed interest in it, and there's been some British interest in it," Powell said.

Troop deployment

Political endorsements aside, the issue of whether or not Germany is prepared to send soldiers to Afghanistan is another matter.

According to Bernhard Gerz, Chairman of the Professional Soldiers Union, Germany only has 66,000 soldiers on standby for deployment abroad. The majority are already participating in missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

"I'm sorry to say, we would not really be able to contribute a lot" to the Afghanistan mission, Gerz said on Friday. Taking a leading role in the peacekeeping mission is even less likely.

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