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Germany Not Likely to Send Ground Troops to Middle East

DW staff (jam)
August 17, 2006

German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said on Thursday that the country's contribution to an international peacekeeping contingent would likely be naval forces and not land-based soldiers.

A Lebanese soldier walks past boxes of humanitarian aid which arrived in Beirut on ThursdayImage: AP

During a Thursday visit to a transport helicopter regiment in the town of Rheine, Jung said Germany could participate in a peacekeeping force by sending sailors to help secure the border between Syria and Lebanon. He said he saw almost no chance of sending army troops in.

Jung said that the Bundeswehr, or German armed forces, now has around 8,000 soldiers participating in peacekeeping operations around the globe, including Afghanistan and Congo, and had almost reached its full capacity, although the navy still had some "capabilities." Asked by reporters if ground troops would be sent, he responded: "That is not up for debate."

Jung added that any further foreign operations would require additional financial support from the federal budget.

Verteidigungsminister Franz Josef Jung in Kongo
Jung in Congo; Could he be visiting German troops on the Mediterranean soon?Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

The German news agency ddp also reported that sources close to the government have said that Berlin would not send ground or air troops to southern Lebanon.

Other German politicians have come out in recent days against any participation of German soldiers in areas where they could possibly see fighting. Gert Weisskirchen, a Social Democratic parliamentarian, said he could not imagine a situation in which German soldiers would be sent into regions where active hostilities had broken out. His conservative colleague Karl Lamber from the Christian Democrats echoed those sentiments.

Setting the Focus

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel met with her deputy, Franz Müntefering, and the heads of the Christian Social Union and the Social Democrats about the peacekeeping mission.

The leaders decided Germany did want to contribute to the force and that humanitarian aid, rebuilding assistance and securing the Syrian-Lebanese border from the sea should be the focus of German efforts.

Criticism of the coalition government's plans for a force has come primarily from the free-market liberal FDP party. The party's foreign policy expert, Wolfgang Gerhardt, called on the government to clarify the mission mandate further before presenting a concrete plan to the Bundestag for a vote.

Jewish support, popular opposition

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, welcomed Berlin's deliberation about Bundeswehr participation. Earlier, some Jewish leaders had expressed opposition to German involvement.

Schlechte Tarnung
Germany is involved in peacekeeping missions in several crisis regionsImage: AP

"Germany and Israel are friendly nations who are linked together by long and positive diplomatic relations," Knobloch said. "If Israel needs help in its current situation, we should not refuse."

Most Germans still reject sending troops to the Middle East. A recent poll of 1,001 Germans found 59 percent are against German participation in an international peacekeeping force. The same survey found that 37 percent are in favor.

French hesitation

The French daily Le Monde said on Thursday that France is considering providing only a symbolic force for a UN contingent, a move which could delay the mission or even undo the operation.

UN sources in New York told Reuters that officials were working hard to convince France to anchor the force, due to its traditional ties to Lebanon, and that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was due to call French President Jacques Chirac to talk about the problem.

While diplomats had expected France to send at least 2,000 troops, Le Monde reported that Paris wants to send just a dozen officers and around 200 personnel from an engineering division. France's reticence follows several disasters that took place during past peacekeeping operations, including a 1983 bomb attack in Beirut which killed 58 paratroopers and a mission to Bosnia in the early 1990s during which 84 soldiers were lost.