Afghan Reinforcements: Germany Pledges 500 Extra Troops Plus Big Aid Increase
Berlin has announced it will send an extra 500 troops to Afghanistan, plus an additional 350 soldiers as a "flexible reserve," and will contribute 50 million towards a program to reintegrate Taliban fighters. It's Germany's answer to calls for more troops at the London Afghanistan conference on Thursday.
The German government, facing pressure from its NATO partners to pledge more troops for Afghanistan, said on Tuesday it will offer to send an additional 500 troops, plus 350 soldiers as a "flexible reserve," and will double reconstruction aid.
Speaking two days ahead of the London Afghanistan conference, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin will also provide 50 million ($70 million) to a 350 million international fund to persuade Taliban insurgents to lay down their arms, and will almost double annual development aid to 430 million from the originally planned 220 million.
Merkel has to balance NATO demands for more German troops with the need to persuade a deeply skeptical German public that the mission is worthwhile.
"This will be a new approach in the future, namely protecting the population and training Afghan soldiers in one go. This is a much more defensive approach, for which the German army's offensive capacities will be rearranged," Merkel told a news conference.
Focus on Training
The additional troops will be used to help train the Afghan military and to protect the existing German force in Afghanistan. Germany currently has 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, the third-biggest contingent behind the United States and Britain.
The German parliament will have to vote on the troop increase because the government at present only has a mandate for 4,500 troops in Afghanistan. Merkel is scheduled to outline her new Afghan strategy in parliament on Wednesday.
She said the "flexible reserve" of 350 soldiers was intended to provide security for special situations such as the Afghan parliamentary elections this year. She said Germany would continue to focus on the north of Afghanistan.
Washington has been pressuring its allies to back its increase of 30,000 more soldiers in Afghanistan to tackle the growing Taliban insurgency and prepare an exit of Western forces by stepping up training of the Afghan army and police.
The plan, decided at a meeting between Merkel and government ministers on Monday night, will be presented at the London conference by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Greater Risk to Troops
The number of German troops devoted to training their Afghan counterparts will be increased to 1,400 from 280. The German army's training strategy will change in coming months in line with plans by NATO partners to integrate trainers within Afghan units rather than confining themselves to army bases or armored vehicles.
Under the new US strategy, international instructors will live with the Afghan troops and train them in the course of military operations. It's a model that entails considerably more risk than the German army's current methods, but Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg plans to adopt it nevertheless.
The government has ambitious targets for the coming months. According to a strategy paper, it plans a rapid handover of security to Afghan forces in several districts of northern Afghanistan starting in the first half of 2011. The German government even thinks it may be possible to start reducing troop numbers from the end of 2011.
The annual development aid budget will amount to some 430 million until 2013, which is 210 million more than originally planned. The aim is to launch a "development offensive" for northern Afghanistan to reach more people with infrastructure projects.
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