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Germany

Germany Sends Troops to Scout out Expanding Afghanistan Mission

German Defense Minister Peter Struck announced he will send a small contingent of Bundeswehr soldiers to Afghanistan look at expanding the mandate beyond Kabul causing an uproar in Parliament.

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German ISAF soldiers have been serving in Afghanistan since 2002.

A week after Germany's cabinet agreed to expand the Bundeswehr's peacekeeping mandate in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, the country's defense minister said an advance team of troops will soon be on its way to the city of Kunduz.

The soldiers will examine the area around the northern city in preparation for the possible expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, which is still waiting on United Nations and NATO approval. While being critcized by opposition politicians for moving too quickly, Struck said he wanted to get the team to Kunduz before the arrival of the harsh Afghan winter.

Germany wants to eventually deploy a Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) of between 230 and 450 troops in Kunduz. Though NATO recently took over command from the U.N. of the 5,000-strong multinational force, Germany's constitution requires that the United Nations vote to expand the mandate before it can commit more soldiers to the NATO mission.

"This matter is being looked at inside NATO, and we'll be looking for some military advice on how feasible that may be," said NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

Reluctance to commit more troops

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has added his voice to the widespread calls for NATO to expand ISAF beyond Kabul. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai say a larger mission is needed to bring security to parts of Afghanistan dominated by tribal warlords.

But as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out on his recent visit to Afghanistan, many Western countries are reluctant to commit more troops. "For whatever reason, there have not been countries lining up to expand ISAF," Rumsfeld said, though he added that "an expansion of ISAF would be a good thing."

The German advance team in Kunduz will be acting under the assumption that an approved ISAF expansion won't be far off. According to Struck, they'll be checking if the present infrastructure being used by U.S. troops can be taken over, drawing up security plans for buildings in the area, and deciding how much logistical support is needed.

Opposition angry

Verteidigungsminister Peter Struck

German Defense Minister Peter Struck

Struck's (photo) announcement caused an uproar in the German parliament, with the opposition accusing him of racing ahead with the plans before parliament had given its approval. Fischer was also challenged to explain why he has reversed his earlier position to now come out in favor of the expansion of ISAF.

Fischer responded to the criticism by saying that both he and Struck had carefully considered the opinions expressed by the opposition. A broad consensus for the work of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan is in Germany's interest, he said.

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