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US Demands

Hardy Graupner (rar)November 20, 2006

The US administration is increasing pressure on Germany to lift restrictions on its Afghanistan directive and help reinforce combat troops in the south to stop Taliban insurgents.

A German tank, displaying a German flag, driving along
The US has been frustrated by Germany's restictions on Afghanistan missionsImage: AP

Several German dailies reported at the weekend that the United States wants to see German combat troops in the south of Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents are threatening to destabilize the already shaky situation even further.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper quoted a high-ranking US defense official as saying that German troops based in the relatively peaceful north must be able to move to the south at short notice. The unnamed official said allied commanders should be able to call the Germans in the morning, asking for a battalion, and it should be there by the evening.

He said Washington was frustrated by the mandate restrictions which were confining several foreign armies to the sidelines of conflicts in southern Afghanistan.

US unhappy with obstacles

The US defense official was quoted in reports as saying that he did not like these stumbling blocks and that such a restrictive policy showed no solidarity with those western troops fighting the Taliban in the south of the country.

At present, there are some 2,700 German troops in the north of Afghanistan where they hold the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contingent.

However, US and some European NATO member countries feel German troops should also be deployed in the more dangerous southern parts of Afghanistan.

A row of soldiers in uniform, who are part of International Security Assistance Force listen to a speech
NATO-led ISAF troops are under German control in northern AfghanistanImage: AP

'Germany has played a big part already'

Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, rejected the US criticism which had also been echoed more recently by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Schulz insisted German troops have been doing a great job in the north, where they have played a significant role in reconstruction efforts and contributing to resolving the conflicts, and this is where they should stay.

He added that German has been active in "many peace-keeping missions abroad," and resources can only go so far.

"We have a large contingent on the Balkans, we're part of the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, and German troops are also at the Horn of Africa to prevent the smuggling of weapons by sea to terrorists," Schulz said. "It's justified to say that the German armed forces are taxed to their limits, and any criticism of their commitment in Afghanistan is unfounded."

Miliary efforts "not enough"

Close up picture of Martin Schulz, with the EU flag in the background, during a press conference at the European Parliament
Schulz says German troops have effectively continued to stabilize northern AfganistanImage: AP

Schulz admitted the situation in the south of the country was bordering on chaos but said military operations alone would not resolve the problem.

"Perhaps more troops are needed to fight the Taliban in the south, but the Karsai government is also called upon to ensure that the resources being pumped into the country do not end up in the pockets of warlords and are distributed more evenly," Schulz said.

"What sense would it make to withdraw some of our northern troops who've done a great job there, and deploy them in the south? This would only result in a partial destabilization in the north so that nothing would be gained by such a move," he added.

The US State Department meanwhile has confirmed President George W. Bush has raised the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said there will not be any change to Germany's Afghanistan mandate.

Southern troop deployment a possibility

But reacting to the pressure from Washington, other conservative lawmakers have indicated a partial deployment of German troops in the south of Afghanistan is no longer out of the question. They have said that if the capabilities of the German troops are needed to rescue friendly forces in emergency situations in the south, then they should be dispatched there.

Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats, said up to 100 special forces soldiers could be deployed anywhere in the country at any given time but added this had not been requested for over a year.

Germany's commitment to the Afghanistan mission will be discussed at the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, on Nov. 28 and 29.