Reluctant Reconnaissance German Tornado Jets Depart For Afghanistan
Germany on Monday increased its contribution to the NATO force in Afghanistan by deploying six Tornado jets. The planes will be used for reconnaissance in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency threatens international peacekeepers and Afghan citizens alike.
Six German Tornado reconnaissance jets left for Afghanistan Monday. "The mission is clearly and explicitly reconnaissance," said Germany's defense minister.
Six planes left an air base in the northern German town of Jagel on Monday and are expected to arrive at the Bundeswehr base at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Thursday. The reconnaissance jets will be placed under NATO command on April 9.
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of the conservative Christian Democratic Union said the Bundeswehr's planned air reconnaissance of Taliban positions would strengthen the International Security Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) and provide additional security for troops and civilians aiding with reconstruction in the war-torn country as well as for the people of Afghanistan.
The jets are equipped with high-tech cameras that will be used to provide images of suspected Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan, which has seen intense fighting between Taliban insurgents and NATO troops in recent months.
Germany has refused to send Bundeswehr troops into southern Afghanistan -- a stance that has at times drawn criticism from its international ISAF partners. A recent TNS poll taken for SPIEGEL showed that 57 percent of Germans believe the country should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. With public support waning, Jung took pains Monday to express the restricted role the Tornados will play.
The Tornados, he said, would aid in the fight against the Taliban, but he cautioned that efforts would be taken to ensure that the civilian population was not harmed in operations that benefited from the reconnaissance. And while the Tornados will be equipped with weapons, they will only be used in cases of self-defense.
"The mission is clearly and explicitly reconnaissance," Jung said. "These are the only capabilities we will use and no others."