In a speech to the German parliament on Wednesday, Guido Westerwelle called the mission in Afghanistan "an armed conflict within the parameters of international law" and pushed for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.
"We have to call things by the proper name, we owe it to those who are exposing themselves to danger on the front lines," the foreign minister said.
Different rules for Germans
Unlike the troops of other countries involved in the Afghan conflict, German military forces have until now been subjected to the civil penal code. Westerwelle's reclassification of the ongoing conflict has legal consequences for the actions of German soldiers, as well as for its potential criminal rating.
"Simply continuing as we have is not an option," Westerwelle told representatives. "Neither is walking away and looking away."
Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg welcomed the new classification. Even if the final legal assessment remained subject to the judiciary, Westerwelle sent "an important political signal," he said.
But the leader of the Social Democratic party, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned that the new self-assessment could contribute to the escalation of the situation in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved sending 850 additional troops to Afghanistan in response to a strategy change by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. That brings the total number of German troops in Afghanistan to more than 5,300.
Germany and its allies agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan and put more focus on training the Afghans themselves at a meeting in London in January.
Now Merkel needs the Bundestag or the lower house of parliament to approve the additional troops.
A new strategy
Westerwelle added that the main task of the German military in the coming months would be to train Afghan police and soldiers. In addition to extra troops, the government has also asked for 260 trainers to be sent to Afghanistan to train local security forces.
The German government hopes to begin handing over responsibility to the Afghans for their own security beginning in 2011, Westerwelle said. However, he refused to name a specific date for troop withdrawal, saying it would only embolden terrorists.
Editor: Rob Turner