ROUNDUP: Germany may send 240 combat troops to Afghanistan
( dpa ) - Germany is considering sending a 240-strong Quick Reaction Force to northern Afghanistan to replace a Norwegian force that is leaving in July, the Defence Ministry said in Berlin Wednesday. A ministry spokesman said no firm decision had yet been taken but noted that Germany had a strong interest in maintaining security in the region around Mazar-e-Sharif, where it maintains a base in the northern Balkh province. He denied that the deployment, if approved, would mark a new departure for the German army in Afghanistan. The final decision, which is to be taken by NATO, is expected at the end of the month. Earlier, the Bavarian daily Passauer Neue Presse reported that combat troops would be deployed, citing a parliamentary spokesman for the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner in the ruling coalition. SPD defence spokesman Rainer Arnold told the paper the German army had begun making preparations for the deployment. "This task falls to Germany in the summer," he said, adding that the deployment signalled a "new quality" in the German engagement in Afghanistan. The Defence Ministry spokesman denied this and insisted the deployment would fall under the mandate for German forces in Afghanistan renewed by parliament last year. Arnold said the new troops would have different equipment and tasks and could be deployed "for pursuing terrorists." The unit is to replace 350 Norwegian troops leaving the region in July. A smaller number was required, as the necessary logistics were already in place, Arnold said. In October, the Bundestag renewed the mandate for 3,500 German troops in Afghanistan, combining two previous mandates. Up to 3,000 troops are deployed in a training, reconstruction and security mission in the relatively peaceful north under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. There are also six Tornado reconnaissance jets and their back-up units. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that President George W Bush had approved the deployment of an additional 3,200 US Marines to Afghanistan.