Germany's Libya Contribution Merkel Cabinet Approves AWACS for Afghanistan

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government approved a plan to send AWACS surveillance planes to Afghanistan in order to free up NATO capacity for operations in Libya. The trans-Atlantic alliance looks set to take over control of the ongoing bombardment of forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.


The government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel elected not to take part in the United Nations-approved military operations in Libya. On Wednesday, however, her cabinet voted to increase Germany's role in surveillance flights over Afghanistan in an effort to free up NATO AWACS planes for ongoing air strikes in North Africa.

The decision, said Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, is a "political sign of our solidarity with the alliance." When it comes to standing by its NATO allies, he added, the government doesn't "require instruction from anyone."

Wednesday's decision came in the form of a new draft mandate for Germany's involvement in Afghanistan. It calls for up to 300 German troops to man AWACS surveillance flights over Afghanistan in support of ongoing operations there. The new mandate, which would not increase German troop presence in Afghanistan from its current maximum of 5,350, must now be approved by the federal parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin. The center-left Social Democrats, the largest opposition party, have already signaled their likely approval of the measure. A vote on the issue could take place as soon as Friday.

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Photo Gallery: The Battle for Libya
Just last December, Merkel's administration had sought to prevent US General David Petraeus, the top commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, from requesting German assistance in aerial surveillance of Afghanistan's airspace for fear of having to reject the request. But Berlin has been strongly criticized for abstaining from a United Nations Security Council vote last Friday authorizing military force to protect civilians from forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

Speaking before leaders of the conservatives' party group in the Bundestag, Merkel expressed unsual emotion when addressing the backlash against Germany on Tuesday. "Our discussion about the vote on Libya makes me sad," she said, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. But she also defended her government's course and offered her personal backing for German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who has been criticized internationally for his outspoken Libyan position. Merkel said the decision had also been hers.

Meanwhile, the bombing of military targets in Libya continued on Wednesday with witnesses reporting attacks against sites in Tripoli. In addition, NATO officials announced that operations to enforce a weapons embargo against Libya would commence on Wednesday with several warships mobilizing in the Mediterranean.

NATO Debate May Be Resolved

The alliance has been largely successful in establishing the no-fly zone over Libya called for by the Security Council resolution passed last Friday. Nevertheless, Gadhafi insisted that his forces will emerge victorious in the battle against rebels attempting to overthrow the dictator. "We will defeat them by any means," he said in an appearance on Wednesday morning, his first since the air assault began on Saturday. "We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one.... This assault ... is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history."

Alliance members have reportedly made progress on Wednesday toward resolving a debate about the future leadership of the operations in Libya. According to a report in the Guardian, US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron have agreed that NATO will take the lead in controlling the operation.

"The two presidents have come to an agreement on the way to use the command structures of NATO to support the coalition," the Élysée Palace said in a statement, a clear effort by Sarkozy to portray the deal as a Franco-American success. Paris had been opposed to an increased role for NATO, preferring to retain control over the operation itself.

The current coalition operating in Afghanistan will retain the political reins, however. NATO is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the deal, which requires approval from all 28 members. The Guardian quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying that Turkey, which had been adamantly opposed to NATO leadership of the Libya operation, "has become more flexible in the last day or so."

That flexibility may have come about as a result of a telephone call between Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Obama has reportedly cancelled the remainder of his trip to South America due to the ongoing operations in Libya.

cgh -- with wire reports


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