German Cabinet approves one-year extension of troops' Afghan mission

Thursday, September 20, 2007

BERLIN -- On Wednesday the German Cabinet approved a one-year extension to the country's increasingly unpopular role in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, a decision that must now be passed by parliament.

Germany has nearly 3,000 troops serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, largely in the relatively peaceful north. Earlier this year, Germany sent six Tornado fighter jets to Afghanistan to fly reconnaissance missions for NATO forces.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said the current mandate expires Oct. 13. He did not say when exactly parliament might vote on the Cabinet decision.

Polls show Germans are increasingly questioning their support for the mission, with a majority now favoring withdrawing the country's troops.

The deployment of the fighter jets has been particularly divisive, with some worrying that it's a combat mission in disguise that could suck the country into fighting in southern Afghanistan.

Last week, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel urged parliament to stand behind the troop deployment. "Much is at stake in Afghanistan," she said, citing considerable challenges in reconstruction, security and fighting the drug trade.

The opposition Left party pressed for the withdrawal of the forces.

"NATO troops in Afghanistan are seen by the population as occupying troops and vassals of the U.S.A.," said Oskar Lafontaine, the party's co-leader.

German military deployments abroad require parliamentary approval, which typically is renewed on an annual basis.

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