The government also wants the new troop mandate to run until December 2009, so that the politically sensitive issue would be kept out of next year's election campaign. Up till now the troop mandate, which this year expires on October 13, has been renewed every 12 months by Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. Elections in 2009 are scheduled for Sept. 27.
"The increase is necessary to give us more flexibility to respond to challenges," Jung told reporters at a news conference in Berlin. "But the upper limit of 4,500 does not mean that they will all be deployed at once."
Any increase in troop numbers will have to be approved by the Bundestag. But, Germany's grand coalition government -- which pairs Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats with the Social Democrats -- should have no trouble securing enough votes for the increase. Many in the opposition are also in favor of the increase, with only the Left Party coming out against it.
Jung said one of the main reasons for the raising of troop levels was that the German army was planning to triple the amount of training it offered to Afghan troops. On top of that, Jung added, it was necessary to have reserves in northern Afghanistan to replace troops from other partner nations. In February, Germany also agreed to send a 200-strong quick reaction force to replace a departing unit from Norway.
Since 2002 the German army has deployed troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany's deployment of around 3,500 soldiers -- the country's largest foreign mission -- is responsible for the entire north of Afghanistan. But some of Germany's NATO partners, especially the US, have urged Germany to shift soldiers from the north to the more dangerous south to help fight Taliban insurgents there.
However, the latest troop increase proposal does not foresee such a move. Defense Minister Jung told reporters German troops would remain focused on the north and only 40 communications specialists would be deployed to the south for a German-Danish mission.
Even as it plans to increase ISAF troops, Germany plans to cut the upper troop limit of its separate anti-terror mission, which is part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Instead of the current limit of 1,400 the maximum number would be cut to 800. This would not, however, affect the number of troops on the ground, Jung said, as they were well below the limit.
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