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World

Keeping the Peace for Another Year

The German parliament has approved extending its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan for one year. In February Germany, along with Holland, takes over the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force there.

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German troops in Afghanistan are to continue their mission next year

On Friday, an overwhelming number of German parliamentarians voted to not only keep German troops on Afghan soil for twelve more months, but also to double the number of soldiers patrolling this war-torn country struggling to put down democratic roots and establish the rule of law.

The German parliament, the Bundestag, voted 565 to nine to lengthen the military’s stay in the country, where it makes up part of a 22-nation peacekeeping force brought in to stabilize the capital Kabul and the surrounding region after an American bombing campaign helped drive out the fundamentalist Taliban regime last year.

Before Friday’s vote, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer stressed the importance of the military’s continuing presence in the region. “There is no alternative to international engagement in Afghanistan if we want to learn from September 11,” Fischer told parliamentarians, adding that the mission there would be a long and dangerous one.

Germany’s defense minister Peter Struck, a member of the governing Social Democrats, echoed those sentiments, saying the fight against international terrorism is far from over, evidenced by Thursday’s grenade attack near the German base in Kabul. Two Afghans died and two French civilians were injured when a man threw two grenades outside one of the main International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) bases.

Politically Popular

Approval to extend the German mandate crossed party lines, with both the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) voting in favor. The CDU’s foreign affairs spokesman Friedbert Pflüger said removing the peacekeeping troops now would be a belated victory for the Taliban. He called for ISAF to concentrate on extending the relative stability enjoyed by the Kabul region to the rest of the country, which is largely still under the control of regional warlords.

The government however had rejected expanding the geographic region of its mandate beyond the area immediately around Kabul.

More To Ship Out

The Bundestag also agreed to double the number of German soldiers serving in Afghanistan, from the current 1,300 to around 2,500. Germany is scheduled to take over leadership of ISAF forces along with Holland in February, and the additional soldiers will be needed for that six-month responsibility, according to Defense Minister Struck.

Although the support was widespread, there were a few voices of caution. The defense spokeswoman for the Green Party, Winfried Nachwei, denied that Germany’s taking over the ISAF reins was a way of “making up” for not participating in a possible Iraq war.

One of the dissenting votes to the extension was Petra Pau, member of the pacifist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). She warned against making a decision to extend the mandate lightly, since in her opinion increasing the number of soldiers and taking on a leadership role put the operation on a new level. The ISAF’s success thus far, she said, has only been mediocre.

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