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Jumping the Gun

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is due to visit Washington for talks with President George W. Bush. Germany’s military role in Afghanistan is likely to be the focus of the meeting.


"Unlimited solidarity"

The attacks of September 11 still dominate the transatlantic agenda. President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address gave some clear pointers that the war on terror is only just beginning. The message was loud and clear.

What exactly that means for Germany is what Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will be wanting to find out when he visits Washington on Thursday.

Despite earlier suggestions to the contrary, Germany said on Tuesday that it was not pushing to take on the leadership role of the international peace-keeping operation in Afghanistan.

Following a meeting between Schröder and the heads of the Foreign, Defence and Finance Ministries in Berlin on Tuesday, the government said Germany will not be available to lead the international peace-keeping mission.

Britain ends its spell in charge of the operation in Afghanistan at the end of April.

"It was not to be ruled out that Germany would take over the lead of the mission from Britain in the spring", government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said on Tuesday afternoon.

"However, the Bundeswehr would first have to cut its forces in Macedonia", Heye added.

Germany has 7,000 troops committed to overseas peace-keeping operations, mostly in the Balkans. Its military capabilities could simply not be stretched to take on the Afghanistan mission, the government said.

It has been a trademark of Chancellor Schröder’s government to raise Germany’s profile and to take on a more active international role. But his words of "unlimited solidarity" have their limits. The leadership question in the Afghanistan mission has revealed them.