Chancellor Merkel's cabinet Tuesday extended Germany's commitment of troops to Afghanistan even as the defense ministry said it will no longer send elite soldiers to back US-led counterterrorism operations.
Germany is to send an additional 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan
Germany's cabinet on Tuesday, Oct 7, extended the German army's military presence in Afghanistan by 14 months and also agreed to beef up the mission with an additional 1,000 soldiers in the face of worsening security.
Germany's lower house of parliament is scheduled to debate the Cabinet decision later in the day.
A vote is not due until mid-October, but the measure is expected easily to pass in the legislature, where Merkel's broad-based coalition enjoys a secure majority.
The move came a day after the German Defense Ministry confirmed it will no longer make troops from its elite KSK special forces available to support US-led counterterrorism operations in the region called "Operation Enduring Freedom" (OEF).
OEF was a direct response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It has become extremely controversial in Germany and been highly unpopular with German voters and many politicians on the political left because of the high number of civilian deaths caused by the fight against Taliban insurgents.
The mandate of the special forces backing the US-led "Operation Enduring Freedom" is separate from Germany's peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led ISAF force.
Focusing on the NATO mission
Bundeswehr troops will be reassigned to NATO's ISAF
The official statement confirming the withdrawal of elite soldiers from Afghanistan came two days after Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke out against a new parliamentary mandate for the KSK soldiers at the weekend.
Steinmeier, the SPD's candidate to challenge Merkel in next year's general election, noted that the KSK soldiers had not been deployed over the past three years.
Steinmeier said Berlin needed to keep its focus on the NATO-led ISAF troops in Afghanistan.
The number of German troops has increased steadily since the government first sent 1,200 soldiers to Afghanistan in 2001. Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung and his generals most recently calling for the number to be increased to 4,500.
Situation getting more dangerous
German soldiers are facing increasing risks in Afghanistan
Most German soldiers are stationed in the north of the country, removed from the fighting in southern Afghanistan. But even the north has become a danger zone in recent months, with Germany's military camp in the Kunduz region coming under rocket fire.
Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are active in the north, Ulrich Kirsch of the Bundeswehr Association told Deutsche Welle.
“The scope of the threat is very high. There are booby traps and assassinations,” Kirsch said. “The booby traps are constantly changing. The Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are always coming up with something new. And it's impossible to do anything against suicide attackers.”
Kirsch said that the weeks before the mandate comes up for renewal are particularly dangerous times. Enemies are monitoring the German media and know that they can use attacks to influence the debate, he added.
Involvement seen as crucial
Bomb attacks and kidnappings are on the rise in Afghanistan
Attacks are increasing because of the German military's success with humanitarian and rebuilding projects, said Social Democrat parliamentarian Joern Thiessen.
“It is a sign that we are carrying out successful politics in Afghanistan," Thiessen said. "It's difficult to communicate this, but I believe that it is urgently necessary.”
But not everyone in the parliament agrees. Even some in the governing coalition, such as Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentarian Willy Wimmer, wants to see a scaling back of troops in Afghanistan out of fear that Germany is getting pulled depeper and deeper into an unwinnable conflict.
If the war is going to last 40 years, as some predict, then “it's time to go,” Wimmer said.
Wimmer isn't the only one pessimistic about the ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency. Britain's commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, said in an interview over the weekend that he does not believe the war can be done.
"We're not going to win this war. It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army," he said.