Germany to send combat troops to northern Afghanistan

Other News Materials 6 February 2008 20:29 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Germany is to send a 200-strong Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to northern Afghanistan in the summer to provide additional security for reconstruction teams working in the region, German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said Wednesday.

The troops are to replace a larger Norwegian contingent which is leaving. Their main tasks are to conduct patrols and provide security and crowd control, as well as mount evacuation and search operations.

Jung insisted the QRF would fulfil the same role as the Norwegians, despite its smaller size, as it could rely for logistics on German forces based at Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh Province.

He declined to provide details on the composition of the QRF or its equipment, saying these were still in the planning.

But he pointed to the availability of "heavy equipment" available to the 3,300 German troops already in the relatively peaceful north of the country.

"NATO has made the request. We have decided after consultation with the military that we cannot allow a gap to develop," Jung told a news conference.

The deployment of the QRF, coupled with criticism from US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at Germany's refusal to allow its forces to become involved in the embattled south, has provoked debate about the deployment in Germany.

Jung said his contact with Gates remained extremely positive, saying the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had come round to the German idea of a "comprehensive approach" involving development and reconstruction, as well as security.He declined comment on a critical letter from Gates published in the German press at the beginning of this month, noting only that the letter had been sent to other NATO partners as well.

All these issues would come up for discussion at the NATO defence ministers' conference in Vilnius Thursday and Friday, Jung said.

"We are on the right road in Afghanistan," Jung said, adding he had received strong praise from the British in particular for Germany's role in the north.

He also noted that Germany headed a total force in the vast north of the country of just 4,000 of the 40,000 deployed by ISAF and said it would not make sense to reduce the presence in the north.

"The division of the regions as decided by NATO is right. If we were to neglect the north we would be making a big mistake," Jung said.

He stressed the German view that "we will not win this process purely militarily" and that gaining the confidence of the Afghan population was essential.

Jung said that during his visit to Afghanistan at the end of last month President Hamid Karzai had agreed with this approach.

Under repeated questioning from journalists, Jung insisted: "Our focus is in the north, but we will help our friends in need."

But he would not be drawn on the likelihood of German troops being deployed to the violent south.

The current mandate, passed by the German parliament in October and valid for a year, allows the deployment of up to 3,500 troops in the north. The troops may offer assistance in other regions only in case of urgent need.