Limited Mandate to Aid NATO Troops Berlin Agrees to Send Tornado Jets to Afghanistan

The German government has agreed to send six Tornado reconnaisance jets to Afghanistan to help hunt Taliban insurgents. But as expected, the jets will not be used in direct support of ground troops. Or will they?

The German cabinet on Wednesday decided to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan.

The German cabinet on Wednesday decided to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan.

The German cabinet decided on Wednesday to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan to help locate Taliban bases in response to a request from NATO.

The German pilots will be accompanied by around 500 support staff. The mission has to be approved by parliament in March and the Tornados could be deployed in April for a six-month tour.

The jets are equipped with powerful cameras. The government has ruled out the planes being used to attack ground positions in so-called Close Air Support -- a strategy NATO forces have been using in Afghanistan whereby ground troops draw fire from insurgents so that they can locate them and direct air attacks on them.

Germany has around 2,900 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Most of them are stationed in the capital Kabul and the relatively stable northern part of the country.

Berlin has resisted pressure from other NATO countries to send combat troops to the south, where British and Canadiansoldiers have borne the brunt of the fighting with Taliban rebels.

The six jets will initially be deployed until October. They will be stationed in Masar-e-Sharif in the north but will operate in the whole of the country.

The mission will cost around €35 million. With more than 4,000 people killed in violence, last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the Tornados would offer added protection for the ISAF troops and Afghan population. "Reconnaissance isn't combat," he told a news conference after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

He said the jets could help prevent civilian casualties and that the mission was necessary given that the Taliban had announced it would launch 2,000 suicide attacks.

Meanwhile an opinion poll showed a big majority of Germans are opposed to sending Tornado jets to the south of Afghanistan. Only 21 percent were in favor, with 77 percent opposed, said the survey by the Forsa institute conducted on February 1 and 2.

Former German air force general Hermann Hagena said the Tornados might end up getting involved in combat. If troops on the ground were in danger a pilot should be prepared to open fire, Hagena told NDR Info radio.



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