German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Wednesday said he backed sending German troops to the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The expansion of the peacekeeping mission outside of Kabul still needs parliamentary approval.
German peacekeepers are currently only based in Kabul.
Schröder said his security cabinet had supported the deployment of a few hundred soldiers to Kunduz in what would be the first significant expansion of peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan now largely confined to the capital Kabul.
“It’s sensible, necessary and responsible,” said Schröder while announcing the decision to reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.
But Schröder added that the step would depend on an expansion of the United Nations mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently is led by NATO in and around Kabul.
Kunduz report gives green light
The decision is based on a report by an investigation team comprising of members of the German armed forces, the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, which was sent to Afghanistan to check the security situation in the northern city of Kunduz. Their mission was to probe whether German soldiers based in Kabul could expand their mission there.
The investigation lead to the team issuing a positive statement of the state of the city and paved the way for Schröder to prepare his motion for parliament.
Peacekeepers could head north
German soldiers of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
If the motion is passed by the Bundestag, up to 250 German troops will move 200 kilometers (125 miles) north to Kunduz from their current base in the capital Kabul, to protect reconstruction teams working in the region. Parliament will also discuss sanctioning a one-year extension to the Afghanistan mandate, which runs out this December, as well as debating the Kunduz deployment.
Chancellor Schröder and other members of his coalition government have repeatedly stressed that securing the peace in Afghanistan lies in Germany’s interests. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Peter Struck, a strong advocate of Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan, underlined the significance of that argument.
"Special German interests lie in a region or a country outside Europe such as Afghanistan, where we are fighting international terrorism and have shown solidarity with our most important coalition partner, the United States," he said in a recent interview.
Green support backs up Schröder
Support has also come in from Schröder’s junior coalition partner, the once strongly pacifist Greens. On Monday, Greens defense expert Angelika Beer (picture) said her party was in favor of extending the Afghanistan mandate beyond Kabul. She pointed towards the recent bombing on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, and said the focus should be on providing civil reconstruction teams with adequate security cover. Terrorists, she said, were concentrating ever more on "soft targets."
But critics are fearful of the security implications of such an operation. With reports of continuing skirmishes from the volatile outlying regions of Afghanistan, the move to Kunduz is considered by some as too dangerous. Several German soldiers have already been killed during peacekeeping in Kabul.
Significant contribution to ISAF
With 2,500 soldiers based in Kabul, Germans form the largest contingent of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul under U.N. mandate. Germany together with the Netherlands was in joint command of the force for the past six months till NATO took over on August 1.