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Germans in Combat

DW staff (sp)June 30, 2008

The German army took over a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan on Monday, June 30 marking the first time the country has provided a combat unit for the NATO-led international peacekeeping force.

A German solider in Kunduz in Afghanistan
Some say the mission involves heightened danger and the threat of attacksImage: AP

The German military organized the so-called quick reaction force or QRF in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan's northern Balkh province in a ceremony on Monday, June 30 amid reports of rising terrorism threats and an attack on the German army in the province of Kunduz, some 150 kilometers away.

Two soldiers sustained injuries when their armored vehicle struck a mine while on patrol, the military said in a statement.

The new deployment will see around 200 German soldiers forming a QRF force at the behest of NATO to prevent attacks in northern Afghanistan. Until now, Norway has provided soldiers for a QRF in the region but now the Scandinavians want to focus on rebuilding Afghanistan and strengthening their civil reconstruction teams.

Heightened danger

Germany currently has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan. An additional 1,000 troops are expected to join them in autumn.

The QRF will be at the disposal of the regional command of the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan and its main job will be to provide emergency help to NATO troops. That will include defending against attacks by a resurgent Taliban and other radical groups and could involve offensive deployments against insurgents.

Dutch soldiers on patrol in Kunduz
Dutch soldiers on patrol in KunduzImage: dpa - Report

Equipped with armoured vehicles and tanks, the QRF is expected to be mobile and quick. It will include experts in deactivating mines and booby traps.

Though the commander of the German QRF, Gunnar Bruegner said the deployment did not involve heightened dangers, the departing head of the Norwegian force said the German army had to be prepared for more casualties.

The Norwegians did not lose a single soldier since the force took up operations in early 2006 but Rune Solberg said threat levels had significantly increased recently in northern Afghanistan.

Reports of rising threats from the Taliban have been fuelled by the approach taken by the new government in neighboring Pakistan to negotiate with Taliban militants. That stance, western experts, say have emboldened Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung had warned the QRF force when he saw it off at the beginning of June of a dangerous deployment with "life-threatening risks."

At the time, Jung said: "Every soldier who goes to Afghanistan must be in a position to fight."

More troops needed

Sending troops into combat in Afghanistan remains a sensitive topic in Germany with opinion polls showing the majority of the population against the step.

NATO partners, particularly the United States, have pressured Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan. They also want more German soldiers sent to the dangerous south to help fight a more powerful Taliban.

There are about 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, most of them part of the NATO-led ISAF force. Yet despite the heavy NATO involvement, some 6,000 people were killed in 2007, the deadliest year since the Taliban was forced from power in 2001.

German NATO General Egon Ramms said last week he urgently needs an additional 5,000 to 6,000 troops in Afghanistan.