As German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer traveled to Washington for talks with U.S. officials on plans to retaliate for the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the German parliament today roundly approved military support for any U.S.-led anti-terrorist actions.
Munich, 19 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, today almost unanimously approved military support for U.S. actions in response to 11 September terrorist attacks.
The move came after remarks by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who said any military decision will be based on the goal of ensuring the future of Germany in the free world. He also said his country wants to the U.S. "unreserved solidarity" in its fight against terrorism, but with certain limitations:
"Germany is ready to take risks, even military ones, but it will not go on adventures."
The Bundestag vote came as German Foreign Minister Fischer prepared to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. In remarks made yesterday before departing for Washington, Fischer gave no indication of what form the anticipated U.S. retaliation might take, saying "any leaks of what is planned would undermine the U.S. action."
He declined to address rumors the U.S. would launch a strike against Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban militia is harboring Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, a primary suspect in the attacks.
Schroeder declined to comment on reports that German troops had already been put on alert for a possible U.S. strike this weekend. Large troop movements have been witnessed at German railway stations, but soldiers told reporters they were forbidden to provide information on where they were going.
Most German military commentators doubt whether German fighting units will be asked to participate directly in a military strike. They say Germany may provide logistical support, as it did in the 1991 Gulf War.
However, sources in the Defense Ministry have hinted that Germany's special operations unit -- the KSK -- might be deployed in Afghanistan or elsewhere for particular operations. The sources say the German unit could work alongside British and French special forces. The German unit, based in the Black Forest region, has taken part in several secret NATO missions in the Balkans to hunt down criminals.
The Defense Ministry sources said deployment of the KSK would be seen as a response to America's request to the NATO council for offers of help in the long-running fight against worldwide terrorism. However, the official spokesman for the Defense Ministry told RFE/RL today he could "neither confirm nor deny" the reports. A military expert, Karl-Heinz Stoeckl, said that as a minimum he expected the U.S. to ask Germany to provide logistical help, such as transport aircraft and equipment:
"Certainly the Federal Republic will be asked to provide logistical help -- perhaps by providing transport aircraft for American troops flying out of Germany. I think that is a very probable situation."
Others have suggested that Germany might also be asked to make a financial contribution to the costs of any operation. Many of the 28 nations which participated in the 1991 Gulf war also provided financial support.
The German chancellor has a problem in offering fighting forces to support the U.S. Unlike other NATO countries, the German government must ask for the consent of parliament before the armed forces can join a foreign military operation. It requires the support of at least two-thirds of the federal parliament. Political commentators believe this could be difficult to obtain despite the national horror at the terrorist attack, which also cost about 100 German lives.
Some members of parliament say Washington should offer clear proof of who perpetrated the attacks before taking military reprisals. Others insist that the terrorist problem should be settled within the framework of the United Nations and not by individual action.
Political commentators recall that Schroeder's government struggled to find the necessary majority to send a small unit to Macedonia to join NATO's weapons-collecting operation there. It did so only with the help of the opposition. Commentators said Schroeder could do the same this time but it does not want to display a split in the government.
A government spokesman said today the administration was also worried that participation in a military operation could lead to street protests and violence by the estimated 3.5 million Muslims living in Germany.
The agency responsible for guaranteeing state security recently issued a report in which it estimated that about 31,000 of these are followers of Islamic extremist groups and could be expected to take to the streets if there was an attack. Most of this group of suspected extremists are Kurds from Iraq or Turkey, but an estimated 3,000 belong to Arab groups, including some from Egypt and Algeria. Many of these are considered ardent supporters of Osama bin Laden.
Some German experts have publicly expressed doubt whether the arrest or death of bin Laden would reduce the threat from extremist groups. Muslim expert Peter Scholl-Latour told German TV that it would give the extremist cause a new martyr and could lead to revenge attacks in the West.
Germany is also introducing stricter controls on immigrants and refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It has been embarrassed by the discovery that some of those who took part in the attacks had been living in the country as students until earlier this year. Because they lived quietly they were never suspected by German security.
Today, the cabinet approved stricter control of Muslims arriving in Germany and the creation of a register in which their personal details will be entered. The government also wants to modify the liberal laws protecting the rights of religious organizations. It is suspicious of some of the Muslim extremist groups which have registered as religious organizations and believes they have done so only to obtain the special protection such groups enjoy.
The hardline Interior Minister Otto Schily said today he considers these measures insufficient. He says he will push for legislation forcing Islamic immigrants and refugees to have their fingerprints in their passports so they cannot be used by others. He also wants to modify existing laws on data protection so that the information can be made available to police and security organizations, including those in other countries.
Schily and those who support him argue that Germany has had little practical experience in fighting international terrorism and say the country's anti-terrorism laws were created for a different age. The last home-grown terrorists operated in the 1970s as the Red Army Faction. They killed several businessmen and bankers but most of the organization's members were in jail by 1977 and the survivors officially dissolved the organization in 1998 in the hope of avoiding prosecution.
But the German security authorities have their triumphs. In March, they arrested five Iraqis and Algerians on charges of preparing an attack on people and institutions in the West deemed to be anti-Islamic.
The Prosecutor's Office in Frankfurt told RFE/RL today said there was evidence the men had been trained in terrorist tactics and the use of explosives in camps in Afghanistan. It said chemical components for making explosives were found in their apartment.
The chemicals had been bought locally -- which the prosecutor said was further proof that terrorists did not need to smuggle weapons into the country. What they needed could often be bought in the neighborhood store.