Germany Says 'No': Berlin Rejects Washington Call for Troops on Taliban Front

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and senior members of her government are rejecting a call by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to send Bundeswehr combat troops to Taliban hotspots in Afghanistan. Merkel's spokesman says the existing Afghanistan mandate is not open for discussion.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung: "We need to keep our focus in northern Afghanistan."
AP

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung: "We need to keep our focus in northern Afghanistan."

On Friday morning, Germany Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung rejected a call by United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for Berlin to send combat troops to southern Afghanistan, where a Taliban-led insurgency has destabilized efforts to establish a democracy in the country.

This week, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung received a letter from his American counterpart Robert Gates making it clear that the US expects more from the Germans. Washington wants Berlin to send combat forces to help with the fight in the southern part of Afghanistan.

The letter's negative tone put German politicians on the defensive on Friday. "I stand behind my position that we should continue to fulfil our mandate in Afghanistan," Jung, of the conservative Christian Democrats, said on Friday. But he rejected calls to send German combat troops to southern Afghanistan. "We need to keep our point of focus in northern Afghanistan," he said.

The Afghanistan mandate for Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, permits a maximum of 3,500 troops to be stationed in less dangerous northern Afghanistan. The mandate limits the Bundeswehr's deployment in southern Afghanistan to providing emergency aid to its allies in exceptional situations.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, Ulrich Wilhelm, said there were currently "no thoughts" about making a change to the existing mandate for the Bundeswehr's deployment in Afghanistan -- a move that would require parliamentary approval in the Bundestag -- and that the chancellor had rejected Gates' demand. In all of her talks, Wilhelm said, the chancellor has repeatedly made clear that the scope of the current mandate is "not up for discussion" -- and that remains the government's "firm position."

Earlier Friday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who also serves as vice chancellor representing the center-left Social Democrats in Merkel's government, rejected Gates' call for the deployment of Bundeswehr soldiers in hard-fought southern Afghanistan.

The Bundeswehr is currently preparing to send combat troops to northern Afghanistan in order to replace a Norwegian Quick Reaction Force, which is due to end its mission early this summer.

dsl/afp/dpa/ap

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