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Germany

NATO General: “The Risk in Kabul Has Increased”

A day after the UN Security Council approved a resolution to expand peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, the NATO commander there said on Tuesday the dangers for German troops are increasing.

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The German Bundeswehr: Under threat but on its way to Kunduz.

In a unanimous vote, the U.N. Security Council on late Monday approved a resolution introduced by Germany to extend peacekeeping activities in Afghanistan beyond Kabul.

The decision paves the way for a German government plan to send as many as 450 soldiers to Kunduz in northern Afghanistan early next year. A decision in favor of the expanded mandate is expected in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, before the end of the month. But the approval for the deployment comes as NATO's senior military official for its International Security and Assisstance Force (ISAF) in the region warned of new dangers.

"I believe that the risk for ISAF here in Kabul has grown in recent months due to the fact that there are (new) threats that we can’t totally defend ourselves against," NATO General Götz Gliemeroth, the German commander of the ISAF force, told reporters on Monday. ISAF has monitored a steady uptick in the number of terrorist threats in recent months, which, Gliemeroth cautioned was a sign that a considerable number of guerilla fighters have infiltrated the area.

A new wave of militants

In many parts of Afghanistan, Taliban forces are regrouping, strengthened by new militants crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan’s porous and, in parts, geographically challenging border region. The highly motivated and well-equipped militants come from Arab countries as well as Chechnya, according to ISAF information.

Their presence has literally forced international aid groups in parts of the country outside Kabul to abandon their work of building roads, schools and a standard of living unseen by Afghans in 20 years. That’s why Gliemeroth and other military leaders are greeting the expansion of the mandate, despite the perils it entails.

Security for aid workers

According to Gliemeroth, the presence of the troops will provide protection for aid workers as well as those providing training for the country’s burgeoning police and military forces, which the international community is seeking to have in place to safeguard national elections slated for next year.

Initially, German Bundeswehr soldiers will replace U.S. troops stationed in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. Though Kunduz is considered relatively secure, the ISAF commander said there is still plenty of work for the Bundeswehr there. The stationing of soldiers in Kundus will also free up soldiers to secure other, more dangerous parts of the country so that reconstruction efforts can start there, too.

"It’s important for Germany to send troops to Kunduz because it frees up American forces who can then either go to Ghazni, Kandahar or Jalalabad," Gliemeroth said. Using regional reconstruction teams, ISAF hopes to soon have aid workers in all of Afghanistan’s major provinces.

It is also anticipated that German troops will eventually provide security for two smaller ISAF bases in neighboring provinces.

Aid groups fear guerilla attacks

But a number of aid organizations have criticized the presence of the troops, saying it makes them more susceptible to attacks by Taliban fighters or guerillas – a position for which the general showed little understanding.

"If you look at the United Nations map and the considerable number of parts of Afghanistan that are inaccessible to such aid services, because of the need for military protection, they’d get over these reservations," Gliemeroth said.

ISAF troops have been present in Afghanistan since December 2001. The German Bundeswehr comprises about 1,500 of the 5,500-strong ISAF force. ISAF’s primary mandate is to provide protection as the country rebuilds itself after 20 years of civil war that has decimated its cities and infrastructure.

The NATO operation, the first outside the transatlantic alliances borders, also provides protection for the Afghan government that replaced the Taliban regime, whcih provided a safe harbor for the al Qaeda terrorist organization and its leader, Osama bin Laden. The country became the first target of the U.S.-led war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

By and large, the force has succeeded in providing security in Kabul. The worst incident to date has been a suicide attack that killed four German soldiers and injured dozens more in a bus in Kabul in June.

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