The German cabinet has voted to send up to eight Tornado jets to Afghanistan for use in surveillance operations as NATO-led forces battle a Taliban insurgency.
German Tornados are heading to Afghanistan but is surveillance really non-combat?
Germany plans to deploy between six and eight of the aircraft and up to 500 soldiers to man them.
The German parliament -- or Bundestag -- needs to approve the mission, but this is considered a formality given the huge majority enjoyed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in the Bundestag.
"I hope for the Bundestag's full support," said Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. Parliament is to decide by early March.
Jung said that if the legislature gives the green light for the mission, the Tornados could be in Afghanistan by mid-April.
German Bundeswehr soldier as part of ISAF in Afghanistan
Government sources said the cabinet had ruled out sending the fighter jets into combat. They will be used to provide the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with images of Taliban activities.
Jung stressed that the use of the jets for intelligence would also help to protect German soldiers.
Furthermore, he said, "without security there can be no reconstruction (in Afghanistan), and without reconstruction there will be no security."
Flights over southern Afghanistan
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has requested the Tornados to fly support missions over southern Afghanistan for NATO ground forces amid fears of a Taliban offensive as spring approaches.
Government sources said Tornado reconnaissance planes would operate across the entire country, taking aerial pictures of Tailban positions and passing the information on to other NATO partners who would carry out strikes against the Taliban.
The six-month tour will cost Germany an estimated 35 million euros ($45.3 million).
German defense minister Franz Josef Jung )
Germany has about 2,700 troops serving with the 35,000-member NATO force in Afghanistan, but they are mainly restricted to serving in the relatively peaceful northern part of the country.
With more than 4,000 people killed in violence, last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.
Germany has been seeking to expand its role in overseas missions in the last decade, but many Germans are uncomfortable about the emergence of a strong army in a country still grappling with its Nazi past.