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Germany: Military Role In Afghanistan Awaits Parliamentary Approval

The United States has asked Germany to supply troops and aircraft to support its antiterrorism offensive in Afghanistan. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder briefed both the government and opposition parties on the request this morning and said he hopes parliament will give its approval to the mission next week.

Munich, 6 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Germany had been waiting almost a month for the call from Washington. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder went to Washington at the beginning of October to tell President George W. Bush that Germany was prepared to provide specialized ground forces and transport aircraft.

Today, Schroeder said Germany will send 3,900 troops to Afghanistan at Washington's request, as well as transport aircraft and possibly military ambulances.

"The U.S. has made five requests to Germany. The first one is forces to defend against ABC weapons [atomic, biological, and chemical]. Germany will also send Fuchs special armored vehicles, [which carry equipment for detecting chemical or biological weapons and] which will require the use of about 800 soldiers."

A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, tells RFE/RL that Germany has not been asked to supply either fighter aircraft or bombers but that its ground forces will include members of Germany's special operations unit, the KSK. The KSK has taken part in several secret NATO missions in the Balkans to hunt down war criminals.

"The U.S. has specifically asked for the KSK special forces for use in ground operations in Afghanistan. They will operate alongside similar American, British, and Turkish units. But, of course, details of their operations will be secret."

Observers say it is difficult for Germany to provide more sophisticated weaponry to the antiterrorism coalition. A recent report on the state of the German armed forces revealed that about 60 percent of its weaponry is more than 20 years old. Despite frequent pressure from the U.S. to invest more in the arms industry, Germany spends just 1.5 percent of its gross national product on defense.

The government has not said where German forces will be based. However, defense specialists say they expect the KSK special forces to enter Afghanistan from bases in Uzbekistan already being used by the United States. Some might also be based in Pakistan.

At present, German military assistance to the U.S. campaign is limited to the provision of crews for AWACS surveillance aircraft protecting the skies over the U.S.

Under German law, any deployment of its armed forces outside Europe has to be approved by parliament. A vote is expected next week. A majority is considered certain because the opposition Christian Democrats and Free Democrats have said they will vote in favor. But Schroeder has made it clear he expects total support from his own Social Democrats and its coalition partner, the left-leaning Greens environmental party.

However, many Greens and several Social Democrats are uneasy about the way the war against terrorism has developed. Several have described it as a war against a poor country already devastated by 20 years of conflict. Many Greens have called for a pause in the bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to allow humanitarian aid into Afghanistan.

Schroeder said yesterday after a weekend meeting of European government leaders in London that he rejects the concept of a bombing pause. He has also warned the Greens against opposing the deployment of troops and made it clear he will not tolerate any opposition to his policy of unqualified support for the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.

A prominent German political commentator, Karl Kaiser, who heads Germany's Institute for Foreign Policy, said today the request for German assistance is an indication of Berlin's growing influence in Europe. He said it appears Germany is considered the most influential ally in Europe after Britain.

Kaiser noted that Germany has indicated several times that it wants to play a leading role in any international body created to manage a political solution in Afghanistan. He said its willingness to play an active part now will improve its chances of playing a political role later.