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Training Pledge

March 30, 2009

Germany says it is ready to meet US President Obama's request for more resources in Afghanistan, by stepping up its training of local police and security forces. But the issue of more troops remains off the table.

A German police officer conducts a training class in Afghanistan
Germany will increase its training of Afghan policeImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The concession, which again fell short of fulfilling requests for more troops – and in Germany's case, combat troops, comes ahead of a 60th anniversary NATO summit this week where allied contributions to the conflict in Afghanistan will once more be a hot topic.

"We want to make this mission a success and that means giving Afghanistan the means to take care of its own security," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly video podcast. "In particular, it means that we must do more qualitatively in the training of soldiers and police. Germany is ready to do its duty."

Merkel, who faces an election in six months time, has already told President Barack Obama -- who will attend the NATO summit hosted by Germany and France -- that Berlin will not increase the number of combat troops it can send to Afghanistan.

Germany has also resisted pressure from allies to send its troops to the more dangerous southern areas of the country, where allied forces are battling a Taliban insurgency.

Germany has 3,800 troops engaged in training and reconstruction programs in the north of the country.

It can push that number as high as 4,500, based on a parliamentary mandate approved last year and has pledged extra troops ahead of the August elections, as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) but stands firm on involving its troops in any military action.

Obama not expected to push for troops at summit

A former Taliban militant beside a photo of Barack Obama
Obama wants more commitment in the fight against the TalibanImage: AP / DW-Fotomontage

Unveiling his new Afghanistan strategy last Friday, Obama said the United States would continue to seek contributions from allies for combat forces, trainers and mentors, strategic lift and equipment, although he is not expected to ask for an increased troop commitment at this week's NATO summit.

Deputy foreign minister Gernot Erler told German radio that Germany welcomed Obama's focus on more training and would be ready to step up its efforts in this area.

"I think we will be ready in Germany to think about a stronger contribution in the area of training," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged European countries to step up their efforts in Afghanistan as the defense organization prepared for its landmark summit.

"It's not acceptable that only the United States strengthens its engagement," he told the Sunday edition of Germany's Bild newspaper. "The Europeans must do more too, whether its in the military or civilian area."

New calls for Europeans to pitch in

James L. Jones
Jones reiterated calls for more European involvementImage: AP

US security advisor James Jones reiterated Washington's expectations in a newspaper interview published in the German daily Tagesspiegel on Sunday, echoing the NATO chief's calls for its European allies in NATO to supplement their troop presence in Afghanistan, at least during the country's August election period.

"Whether these troops stay longer or head home straight after the elections, is another matter," Jones said in the interview published Sunday.

The former general said that even if President Obama did not directly call for increased efforts at the NATO conference, it did not mean that the US was letting anyone off the hook. "From the fact that the USA has not made public detailed demands to its allies, one cannot deduce that the request does not exist," Jones said. "Every nation is free in its decision."

The security advisor further emphasized the importance of civil assistance projects provided by allied forces in Afghanistan.

"The time has passed, in which the quality of the relationship is measured by the number of soldiers," Jones said, adding that military might alone "does not suffice in the conflicts we are now dealing with."

In Afghanistan, for example, a lot could be learned from the German contribution, he said, adding that Germany had done a great deal to train the Afghan police forces.

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