The German cabinet met in Berlin on Wednesday to approve the planned deployment of German peacekeeping soldiers to the northern Afghan region of Kunduz.
German soldiers participating in the ISAF peacekeeping mission
The meeting, which followed Monday’s extension of the United Nation’s mandate for the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, resulted in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s coalition government approving a plan to deploy 230-450 soldiers on a peacekeeping mission on the ground in northern Afghanistan.
Social Democrat Defense Minister Peter Struck is hoping that the Bundeswehr’s Kunduz mission can begin before the end of this month, following formal approval by the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, next Thursday. Although the opposition Christian Democrats have voiced significant doubts about the mission, they have indicated that they will vote in favor of the expanded mandate in the Bundestag next week.
Speaking after the decision in the Bundestag on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Norbert Bicher, said an advance team of soldiers might be deployed to Afghanistan, but he declined to give a date for official start of the mission. Bicher also said no decision had yet been taken as to whether or not mobile German teams would be deployed to oversee elections.
If the Bundeswehr mission proves to be successful, NATO leaders are planning as many as eight more similar missions around other towns, including Herat, Kandahar and Masar-i-Sharif. Struck (photo) told Deutsche Welle that the long-term plan was to extend the security levels around Kabul to other parts of the country.
"We need to concentrate on other areas in Afghanistan as well," the defense minister said. "We all know that there's been a creeping process of Taliban units and warlords regaining control of several provinces in the country. With increased troop presence and development programs put in place by the international community, we should at least try and offer people in these regions a safer and more promising environment."
But some are less optimistic about the planned deployment. German Afghanistan expert Michael Lueders doesn't hold out much hope for the success of the Bundeswehr mission, which he deems as an act of goodwill to the caretaker government in Kabul that, at the same time, ignores the real problems in other parts of the country.
"Kunduz belongs to the relatively stable regions even without further troop presence," Lueders told Deutsche Welle. "Aid organizations on the ground do not want any more soldiers around there. They think that they can cope better with the situation on their own, and they may be right.”
But proponants of the expanded troop deployment say that, though Kunduz is counted among the more stable parts of Afghanistan, the presence of German troops there will free up American soldiers to set about securing more dangerous areas.
The planned Bundeswehr mission has also drawn opposition from the Christian Democratic Union's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Gerd Müller, defense policy spokesman for the CSU told the German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday that they would not approve the mission unless it was justified in its own right. He added that it was not acceptable to deploy Bundeswehr troops to one mission in order to avoid others, such as those in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Struck has dropped his original plan to have a small body of cross-party parliamentary defence experts decide future Bundeswehr missions abroad within NATO’s rapid reaction operations. There’s no majority in the coalition for such a move which would curtail the right of parliament as a whole.
But Struck is still insisting that the government should be able to decide unilaterally to send small contingents of soldiers on, for example, NATO’s AWACS reconnaissance plane missions, while still giving parliament the right to withdraw these soldiers at any given time.