The German lower house of parliament has approved the government's new Afghanistan mandate, which proposes that the withdrawal of German troops should begin by the end of 2011 and be completed by 2014.
The Bundeswehr is to begin its departure later this year
The German Bundestag voted on Friday to extend its military mandate in Afghanistan, a proposal which for the first time contained explicit plans for the withdrawal of German troops from the war-torn nation.
Parliamentarians approved the one-year extension by a vote of 420 to 116, with 43 abstentions.
The new strategy sees for the troop pullout to begin by the end of 2011, "if the security situation allows," and to be complete by the end of 2014.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the vote as a historic decision.
"Today, for the first time, the German government will ask parliament to decide on a withdrawal date and not just an extension of the Afghanistan mandate. This mission is correct, but we cannot view it as endless."
Mission akin to terrorism: Gysi
During the parliamentary debate ahead of the vote, the chair of Germany's opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, called on the government to keep its promise regarding the proposed troop pullout.
"If we don't start our departure in 2011, we won't be out in 2014," Gabriel said in front of the Bundestag.
Despite criticism of the government's "unclear" withdrawal strategy, the Social Democrats voted to extend the mandate.
The Left party's Gysi didn't mince his words on Friday
The Greens, by contrast, for the first time did not support an extension of the mandate. Party co-chair Claudia Roth called the government's strategy "dangerously false" because it remained unclear with regard to its proposed withdrawal.
She called on Chancellor Angela Merkel to follow the example of US President Barack Obama, who in his State of the Union address earlier this week laid out a definite plan for departure, which is scheduled to begin this summer.
Gregor Gysi, head of the Left party, meanwhile, was far more vehement in his critique of the government's strategy.
"You can't fight terrorism with terrorism," an enthralled Gysi told the Bundestag, adding that Berlin's actions represented a "threat to global security."
At present, Germany has some 4,900 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The upper limit of 5,300 will remain until 2012.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer