The German government has decided to extend the military mandate in Afghanistan by one year. For the first time, a time-frame for withdrawal has been named, but no concrete date.
There are 4,600 Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan
The German government decided on Wednesday to extend the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan by one year. Parliament will vote on the decision on January 28, but the new mandate is likely to be approved.
The new mandate means the end is in sight for German soldiers in Afghanistan. According to German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle the withdrawal could begin later this year:
"We're confident that we will be able to start reducing the Bundeswehr deployment for at the end of the year," Westerwelle said. "For the first time we're starting to hand over regional responsibility to Afghan posts in the new year."
Westerwelle wants troops to starting pulling out in 2011
No definite date
The new mission allows the German government to start gradually reducing the size of the deployment. There are curently 4,600 Bundeswehr troops based in Afghanistan. The maximum is 5,350.
The government is reluctant to name a concrete date for a withdrawal, because a pull-out can only begin if the security situation allows it.
This restriction meets the concerns of the defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He thought naming an exact date for withdrawal would be careless.
"The withdrawal depends on the current security situation," Guttenberg said. "It's in no-one's interest that we withdraw permanently from a particular region and that within a short time the situation there has worsened dramatically. That's why we're got to approach it with a sense of proportion."
What's clear is that German soldiers won't hang around in Afghanistan to be the last to turn out the lights. The start of the withdrawal of the Americans and other allies in 2011 will also affect when the Bundeswehr begin to pull out. Westerwelle has spoken of a complete withdrawal of German combat troops by 2014.
"We don't want to stay any longer in Afghanistan with combat troops than is absolutely necessary and we don't want to stay longer than our allies," Westerwelle said.
Vote likely to pass
With the cautious announcement of a withdrawal, the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, will be appeased. Now, there is nothing standing in the way of their support in the parliamentary vote on the mandate at the end of January.
For the Greens, however, the formulation is too vague – parliamentary party leader Juergen Trittin has criticized the German position and demanded a plan for withdrawal with clear dates. The majority of the Greens probably won't vote with the government on the extension of the mandate.
The Left party totally rejects the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan and said its parliamentarians would vote against the mandate on January 28.
Author: Nina Werkhaeuser, Berlin / jli
Editor: Rob Turner