German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet is meeting 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 force
The meeting, which follows Monday’s extension of the United Nation’s mandate for the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, is widely expected to result in Schröder’s coalition government unanimously approving the plan to deploy up to 450 soldiers to flank development programs on the ground in northern Afghanistan.
Defence Minister Peter Struck, a Social Democrat, has said he is confident 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 week.
But he will still have to decide exactly how many troops will be needed to secure the smooth progress of regional development programs for the Afghan people. Struck is hoping to send an advance party of some 70 soldiers before the end of the month, and up to a total of 450 by next spring.
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 organisations 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 Democrat's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Gerd Müller, defence 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 defense 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.