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Germany: Berlin Expects Call For Military Role In Afghanistan

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has warned the nation that it could soon be called on to provide military help in the war against terrorism. He said the U.S. had not yet made any specific request, but Germans should be aware that its soldiers might soon be engaged. Meanwhile, an international defense symposium in Germany has been told that Europe may be asked to provide financial and other help for rebuilding Afghanistan.

Munich, 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder held private meetings this week with leading political parties, including opposition parties, to inform them that Germany might soon be called upon for military assistance in the fight against terrorism.

According to opposition spokesmen, Schroeder gave no details of what might be expected of Germany and said that no concrete requests had yet been made by the United States. But he left no doubt that he expected one within the next few weeks.

In an address to German businessmen yesterday, Schroeder confirmed that he expected Germany would provide assistance, including military assistance, in the near future.

"I assume in the near future we will need to be ready to supply extensive help in the war against terrorism -- also military assistance."

One of the opposition leaders briefed by Schroeder was more explicit. The parliamentary leader of the Christian Social Union, Michael Glos, told reporters: "The message was clear. There should be no false hope for a quick end to the [military] operation [in Afghanistan]. The Americans are pushing on and they are going to include their allies in the operations."

At present, German military assistance to the U.S. campaign is limited to the dispatch of navy vessels to the eastern Mediterranean and the provision of crews for AWACS surveillance aircraft protecting the skies over the United States.

German commentators have said the possibilities for German military assistance are limited because about 60 percent of the country's weapons are more than 20 years old. Germany spends just 1.5 percent of its gross national product on defense.

Most speculation has focused on the use of Germany's special operations unit, the KSK, alongside U.S. and British forces operating inside Afghanistan. The German Defense Ministry said this week that special forces might be used to hunt down Taliban units inside Afghanistan. The ministry declined to give details.

In speeches this week, Schroeder has made clear he will not tolerate any opposition to his policy of unqualified support for the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. In an address yesterday, he specifically warned his coalition's partner, the Green Party, against taking an independent line.

Schroeder's comments were prompted by an appeal by the leader of the Greens, Claudia Roth, for a pause in the bombing to allow food and humanitarian aid for the civilian population. The Greens later said they fully supported the campaign against terrorism.

The attitude of the Greens is important for the government. The German parliament is expected to be asked next month (probably 7 November) to approve the deployment of German forces outside of Europe for the antiterror campaign. Such approval is required by the constitution. The opposition has said it will vote in favor, thus ensuring a majority. The government does not want a situation where it has to rely on the opposition because of lack of support from its coalition partner.

Germany's possibilities in regard to the war were discussed this week at a private defense symposium near Munich. A senior U.S. official said Germany and other European countries could expect to be asked to play a role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan after the end of hostilities. Like all other participants in the symposium, he could not be identified by name.

The official did not estimate how much the reconstruction might cost. He said reconstruction had to develop hand-in-hand with a new political system that involved most of Afghanistan's political factions.