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Berlin Says No Plan Now For Afghan Troop Boost

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung
BERLIN (Reuters) -- Germany has no current plans to lift a cap on the number of troops it can send to Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry has said after a radio report said the government was considering raising the mandate to 7,000.

"At the current time our deployment is staying at 4,200," a spokesman for the ministry said when asked about the report.

He referred to the most recent comments by German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, a conservative who could well stay in his post in Germany's new center-right coalition.

Deutschlandfunk German radio had reported that the government was considering raising the mandate for its contingency in Afghanistan to 7,000 from 4,500.

Without citing any sources, Deutschlandfunk said the government would take this step in December, when the Bundestag lower house of parliament has to vote to extend the mandate.

The radio report said such a move would increase Germany's leverage at an international conference on Afghanistan, expected either later this year or early next year, to discuss the transfer of security to Afghan forces.

Rising violence in Afghanistan has raised questions among participants of the NATO mission over strategy and on September 30 U.S. President Barack Obama heard opinions from top advisers on how to reverse the deteriorating war as part of a sweeping strategy review that could lead to more U.S. troops.

Opinion is divided there on whether to bolster forces or take an alternative path.

The majority of the German public wants the government to bring troops back from Afghanistan.

Both Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has just won a second term in office, and the Free Democrats (FDP), with whom she is in coalition talks, are committed to the Afghanistan mission but Merkel has made clear she wants to discuss the gradual handover of security to local forces.

European defense ministers expressed reluctance on September 28 to send more troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan and several states said they wanted to focus resources and efforts on training the Afghan military and police.