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Germany: Berlin's Role In Antiterrorist Campaign Unclear

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington this week that Berlin is ready to make a military contribution to the war against terrorism. Apparently, Bush did not ask for any concrete assistance, and experts doubt whether Germany would ever be asked to contribute actual fighting forces.

Munich, 11 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Defense Ministry in Berlin said today it was possible that Germany will be asked to provide aircraft for reconnaissance flights over Afghanistan or given other secondary assignments.

The spokesman said he could not speculate on Germany's possible role in the U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan because there was a specific order not to do so. He said no decision had been made on how Germany's armed forces could contribute.

Another spokesman said the United States had not yet told Berlin what action is planned other than the air attacks on Afghanistan.

Germany's contribution at present is largely limited to participation in air surveillance over the United States, which is now conducted by NATO. The NATO aircraft are replacing U.S. AWACS surveillance planes which have been sent to the Middle East and Central Asia.

This allows Germany to support the war against terrorism without creating political problems at home by sending its own armed forces into battle. Any commitment of German armed forces would require the approval of the federal parliament -- and observers say winning that approval would be difficult. Many deputies have publicly expressed opposition to sending German soldiers or airmen into an actual battle.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder himself has warned against media speculation on Germany's possible contribution. On the flight back from Washington this week he confirmed that he and Bush discussed what role Germany could play but he did not state any specifics.

"Naturally, we discussed the military question. However there is too much public speculation on this matter by one person or the other and I will not participate in that."

Observers say Germany could also help win support for the coalition against terrorism in countries such as Iran, where Germany has closer ties than does the U.S.

Germany believes it has a role to play in the Middle East, particularly since tensions have arisen between the U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is already intensely involved in trying to promote the Middle East peace process with U.S. encouragement.

The government's active support for the U.S. is popular. The latest opinion polls indicate that 64 percent of the population believes Schroeder is doing a good job.

But many Germans also believe that the war against terrorist camps in Afghanistan should be matched by a serious campaign to send more humanitarian aid to the people. German TV carries daily images of Afghan civilians, including children, close to starvation after three years of drought as well as appeals from aid agencies for practical assistance.

The U.S.'s program of dropping food parcels in some areas has been criticized by some German aid agencies as not well thought out. They say the U.S. has dropped about 70,000 packets containing rations for one day while there are more than four million refugees.

Some aid agencies based in Pakistan have told German TV that the food packets are seized by armed groups and rarely reach ordinary people.

The German Red Cross has said the food drops could lead some people to enter mined areas searching for packages, while supplies dropped in the mountains could disappear into inaccessible areas.

The German Red Cross today sent two planes to Pakistan carrying aid for Afghans. One carried blankets, tents, and cooking equipment. The other carried key sections of a mobile hospital, including two operating stations and beds for 45-100 patients. The equipment will be carried into Afghanistan by truck.