Germany okays troops beyond Kabul
BERLIN: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet decided on Wednesday to deploy for the first time troops to an area outside the Afghan capital Kabul and said an advance contingent could be in place in the northern city of Kunduz this month.
The decision, which has to be ratified by parliament possibly as early as next week, would see a total of 450 Bundeswehr peacekeepers deployed to Kunduz to provide security for civilian reconstruction teams. The decision comes after the UN Security Council voted Monday to allow the NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to operate beyond the Afghan capital, Kabul. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer hailed the extension as being “of great importance for the establishment of a new order in Afghanistan”.
While the decision is likely to pass through the Bundestag lower house of parliament, it has met with opposition from the conservatives who fear that German troops could be caught up in a battle with drug runners in the region. Germany and Canada currently supply most of the troops to the 5,500-strong force. The speed and scope of the ISAF expansion remains unclear, and very few countries have offered more troops. The extra German troop commitment will be valid for one year.
Kunduz has been relatively peaceful compared with southern and eastern regions, where insurgents have targeted aid workers, Afghan officials and soldiers, and US troops. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN officials and relief agencies have been calling for more than a year for the peacekeepers’ mandate to be extended, citing rampant factional fighting and guerrilla attacks in outlying regions. On Tuesday, a defence ministry spokesman said that a first contingent of 40 to 70 German troops could deploy in northern Afghanistan within weeks. —AFP/AP