Help for NATO German Parliament Approves Planes for Afghanistan

The German parliament on Friday voted to send a handful of reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan. But not everybody is happy with the decision.

As expected, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, voted on Friday to send six to eight Tornado reconnaissance jets to support NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Germany is sending six to eight Tornado recconnaissance jets to Afghanistan.

Germany is sending six to eight Tornado recconnaissance jets to Afghanistan.

Unexpectedly, the opposition made a strong showing. The final tally was 405 votes in favor, 157 against and 11 abstentions. But given that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government pairs the country's two biggest parties, with a total of 447 seats in parliament, the result sends a clear message. The nay vote was the largest ever for a foreign military engagement.

After the vote, two parliamentarians from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) announced they would appeal the decision to the federal constitutional court.

The planes will be stationed at the German base at Masar-i-Scharif in northern Afghanistan. Germany will also be sending an additional 500 support personnel in a mission that has been authorized until the next time the Afghanistan mission comes up for review on October 13, 2007. The Tornado mission will cost an additional €35 million.

The plenum debate was overshadowed by the murder on Thursday of a German aid worker. Sixty-five-year-old Dieter Rübling, an engineer in Afghanistan on a three month development project, was robbed and then shot by gunmen in Sar-e-Pul province.

While the Tornado planes -- also used by the British Royal Air Force in Iraq -- are able to carry laser-guided bombs and air-to-air missiles, the mandate explicitly precludes German participation in combat missions. The opposition fears that German soldiers will be involved in the increasingly heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan, where the US-led anti-terror mission Operation Enduring Freedom is battling the Taliban with NATO support. Because the Tornados will be relaying coordinates for potential bombing targets, many are worried that Germany could become complicit in attacks that result in civilian deaths.

CDU foreign policy spokesman Eckard von Klaeden referred to the mission as a "big push" and "flagship initiative", but warned that Germany would not get involved in a prolonged engagement in the south and east of the country.

Germany currently has around 3,000 soldiers stationed with the NATO mission in Afghanistan -- known as ISAF -- but they are confined to the relatively peaceful region of northern Afghanistan. Germany has led the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north, and has been very successful in building up infrastructure, schools and other municipal institutions.

Nevertheless, Germany has in the past come under fire from NATO officials for not helping out in the increasingly bloody fight in southern Afghanistan. Given the expected Taliban "spring offensive," the Tornados are a much-needed support for the US, Canadian, Dutch and other soldiers fighting in the south.



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