The German government agreed to expand an EU mandate on Wednesday to allow the Bundeswehr to target inland Somali pirate bases as part of the European Union anti-piracy Atalanta mission.
The German military had previously been restricted to only carrying out missions at sea, but the cabinet has now advocated that airborne attacks be allowed up to two kilometers inland. In line with an EU amendment in March, pirates' weapons, ships or fuel depots can all be targeted.
The mandate does not sanction the deployment of any military personal on the ground.
"It is a small, useful additional military option," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said as he arrived at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday.
He added that Berlin should not stand in the way of passing the mandate, which now needs final approval in parliament. But with skepticism among the opposition, this may be problematic.
"The decision comes at a time in which the pirate attacks on convoys and well-secured are declining," Rolf Mützenich, a spokesman for the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) told news agency Reuters. The SPD has pledged to vote against or abstain from the vote, which is scheduled to take place in May.
Green Party leader Renate Künast, meanwhile, described the decision as a "false development."
The waters off Somalia are considered among the most dangerous in the world, with 230 pirate attacks reported last year alone.
In light of ongoing attacks, the German parliament voted last year to extend their contribution to the Atalanta mission until December 18, 2012.
ccp/acb (dapd, AFP, dpa)