Germans back military role against terrorism

Sunday, November 25, 2001

BERLIN -- Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer won the backing of his Greens party Saturday for sending German troops into the war on terrorism, averting the risk of a government collapse.

A national party conference passed a motion endorsing the troop pledge after an emotional plea for support by Fischer, who demanded solidarity with the United States and warned the Greens that they would risk political oblivion by bringing down Germany's center-left coalition.

Faced with strong pressure from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, delegates meeting in the northern city of Rostock overwhelmingly rejected pacifist proposals that would have disavowed Fischer and taken the party out of the government.

"This is a clear mandate," said Greens lawmaker Albert Schmidt, who supported sending German troops.

The vote signaled a fresh move away from the Greens' anti-war roots and bolstered Fischer's position as his nation's chief diplomat.

Delegates, in a show of hands, overwhelmingly approved a proposal by party leaders to stay in the government and to "accept" parliament's decision offering up to 3,900 German troops to help fight terrorism. But Schroeder has stressed there are no immediate plans to send German ground troops to Afghanistan.

Greens members faced the sharpest dilemma in their party's two-decade history after Schroeder called a confidence vote this month to force lawmakers of his coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to endorse the deployment in solidarity with Washington.

"I ask for your trust," Fischer said earlier in a fiery speech mixing horror at the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States with sarcasm against pacifist opponents. "I plead with you: Don't leave me and my policy in the cold."

Some 800 delegates followed Fischer's speech with rapt attention, many breaking into cheers and a standing ovation when he finished. Some booed, however, when he said Germany "must stand at the side of our alliance partner, the United States."

"I wish we could have been spared what happened on Sept. 11," Fischer said. "But that doesn't make this war any less real. In the world of the 21st century, we won't be able to avoid the use of military force as a government party."

He insisted the U.S.-led attacks on Afghan targets were only part of a broader strategy including diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

Opponents of German military involvement criticized civilian casualties in the U.S.-led bombing of Afghan targets and expressed fear that Germany was moving too fast in breaking postwar taboos on sending soldiers abroad.

"This war has not solved the problem of international terrorism, and it will not," Annelie Buntenbach, a leading left-wing Greens lawmaker. "It is disproportionate. The West is running straight into a battle of cultures."

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