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Afghanistan: Germany May Join Reconstruction Teams

Germany is considering joining the U.S. and other European governments in a program intended to develop stability in Afghanistan outside Kabul. Diplomats say the move reflects concern at the continuing lawlessness in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Munich, 19 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Germany has sent a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan's northern province of Kunduz to investigate whether it can join a U.S.-directed program to help bolster security outside Kabul.

Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters Germany may join the Netherlands and Sweden in building a so-called Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kunduz, about 200 kilometers north of Kabul. That group is due to take over from the U.S. team currently in Kunduz.

Diplomats say Berlin's move reflects a growing recognition by European governments of the need to bolster their commitment to Afghanistan, where the interim government led by Hamid Karzai is struggling to exert its influence outside Kabul.

Struck said European governments are concerned at the breakdown of security in many parts of Afghanistan where individual warlords and rebels still loyal to the Taliban operate with relative impunity.

On a single day last week some 65 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of attacks across the country. And as Afghanistan celebrated its national Independence Day today, an explosion rocked through the house of Karzai's brother in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. No deaths were reported in the blast, which government officials have since said was an accident, not an attack.

Germany believes the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is based in Kabul, should extend its operations across the country. However, ISAF operates under a United Nations mandate which would have to be amended in order for it to operate outside the capital.

"I am totally convinced that the engagement of the international security force in Afghanistan should be extended to the regions," Struck says.

The interim Afghan government also wants ISAF to extend its area of operations. The UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said last week that ISAF expansion is needed to ensure that the national elections in June next year are free and fair.

Educating Afghans to work for fair elections is one of Germany's goals in Afghanistan. Struck said Germany believed the Provincial Reconstruction Team it hopes to join in Kunduz should engage in democracy-building projects like training a police force.

Germany has helped train local police forces in Kabul.

Struck also said German troops might be needed to protect the civilians engaged in such programs because the situation around Kunduz remains unstable. Tajik and Uzbek militias still operate in the region.

Kunduz was the scene of the last great battle in northern Afghanistan. In November 2001, thousands of Taliban fighters battled the troops of the Northern Alliance and were defeated only after a heavy aerial bombardment by U.S.-led forces.

"Naturally these civilians require military protection. That could be provided by the German troops. I can't say now how many troops will be required. That depends on the report by the fact-finding mission," Struck says.

Some German experts have estimated that a maximum of 1,000 troops would be needed. It is unclear how they would operate. ISAF is now under the command of NATO, but a senior ISAF official, British General Jack Deverell, told reporters last week that it still cannot move outside Kabul unless the UN mandate is changed.

The Afghan PRTs were established by the United States and not the UN. This allows them to expand across Afghanistan without seeking authorization from the UN Security Council.

Apart from Kunduz, the U.S. leads PRTs in the southeastern city of Gardez and in the central city of Bamiyan. New Zealand is expected to take over the Bamiyan team in the near future. New Zealand's defense minister, Mark Burton, says he will send 100 soldiers to the city.

Britain last month established another PRT in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. France also plans to join the program. And planning is already underway for PRT teams in four additional cities -- Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border; the southern city of Kandahar; the western city of Herat; and Charikar, just north of Kabul.

German officials say they expect a decision on their participation in the PRTs by the end of the month. But the deployment of German troops beyond Kabul will require the approval of the German parliament. Some opposition leaders have expressed doubts about whether the measure will pass, but Struck says he is confident approval will be given.