NATO ROW OVER TROOP DEPLOYMENT

Germany Sending Small Combat Unit to Afghanistan

The German government said on Wednesday it will send a unit of combat troops to northern Afghanistan as part of a NATO Quick Reaction Force to replace a Norwegian unit of 250 soldiers. But it reiterated its rejection of US and NATO calls to deploy troops to help its allies fight the Taliban in the south.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung has praised the performance of German troops in Afghanistan.

The German government on Wednesday rejected accusations from NATO allies that it wasn’t bearing its fair share of the burden in Afghanistan and reiterated its refusal of a US request for German troops to be deployed from the relatively peaceful north to help fight a Taliban insurgency in the south.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Germany was already the third-biggest troop provider in Afghanistan and that redeploying troops away from the north would be a “decisive mistake.”

He did however repeat Germany’s vague pledge to provide its NATO allies with military assistance when required, and announced that Germany will be sending a unit of combat troops to northern Afghanistan to replace the 250-strong Norwegian Quick Reaction Force being withdrawn.

“I want to make clear that we will continue our mission in the north which I think our soldiers are carrying out very successfully,” Jung told a news conference in Berlin. “The regional division of responsibilities is clever and right. Neglecting the north would be a decisive mistake. But I repeat that if friends are in trouble we’ll of course help them.”

Jung had already rejected calls for a redeployment of German forces last week from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Troops from the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are bearing the brunt of a resurgence of Taliban violence in southern Afghanistan. Canada has threatened to pull out unless other allies do more of the hard work.

Germany has around 3,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. Under its parliamentary mandate, Germany can send up to 3,500 soldiers to the less violent north as part of the roughly 40,000-strong NATO International Security Assistance Force.

The US contributes a third of the ISAF mission, making it the largest participant, on top of the 12,000 to 13,000 American troops operating independently. The US plans to send an extra 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan this spring, including 2,200 combat troops to help the NATO-led force in the south.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice piled on further pressure on Wednesday, saying during a visit to London: “It’s true and we’ve made no secret about it that there are certain allies that are in more dangerous parts of the country and we believe very strongly that there ought to be a sharing of that burden throughout the alliance.”

“That said, I think we ought not to also dismiss the contributions that are being made by all alliance members,” she told reporters.

Canadian lawmaker Rick Casson, the defense policy spokesman for Canada’s ruling Conservative Party, said Germany should become more involved in Afghanistan. In an interview with Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper published last Sunday, he said it was “decisive for the future of the Afghan mission and for the future of NATO that Germany and other countries become more strongly involved.”

But Jung said Germany was already stretched with its missions in Afghanistan and in Kosovo where it was the biggest international troop provider, and that it was committed to continuing its “comprehensive approach” — providing a combination of military security, development and reconstruction — in the north.

He added that Germany was already providing military assistance to NATO troops in the south in the form of Tornado jet reconnaissance flights and air transport.