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Germany to Expand Global Military Missions

Ben Knight Wednesday, March 7, 2018

(DW) — The German government wants to expand and adapt its foreign military missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mali, Angela Merkel's cabinet agreed on Wednesday. The German parliament will have the final say, as it does on all of Germany's military operations.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday morning that the Bundeswehr needs to redirect its efforts in Iraq after the successful defeat of the Islamic State militia in the country. The focus would now be to support efforts to reconstruct Iraq.

"It's in our interests that it becomes a stable country over the years," she said.

Von der Leyen claimed that the Bundeswehr mission to train the Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq, which is due to end at the end of April, had been "a great success," and that in future the Bundeswehr would maintain a presence in Baghdad and Irbil, where it would advise on building ministries and providing soldiers with medical supplies.

Germany will also continue to fly reconnaissance missions with their Tornado fighters, and keep refuelling planes in Iraq.

She went on to underline the fact that the mission complied with international law. "We have the invitation of the [Iraqi] prime minister and we are there shoulder to shoulder with the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, and many other countries."

The Never-Ending Afghanistan Mission

Von der Leyen also used Wednesday's interview to call for an expansion of the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan, where Germany has contributed to NATO missions for the past 17 years.

Von der Leyen described the Bundeswehr's contribution to NATO's two missions (ISAF from 2001 to 2014, Resolute Support since 2015) as a "story of progress on the one side, but of course also setbacks."

The defense minister argued that the educational opportunities for children, the status of women, health care and infrastructure in Afghanistan had all improved over the years, but that Afghanistan's own army, now comprising some 350,000 soldiers, was still struggling to keep the country safe. The Afghan military controls around 60 percent of the country, though Taliban fighters have still managed to carry out attacks on government facilities - as well as the German embassy in Kabul.

Up until now, the Bundeswehr has kept a maximum of 980 troops in the country, though von der Leyen wants to raise that limit to 1,300.

Mali—the Most Dangerous Mission

Meanwhile, the Bundeswehr is to send an extra 100 soldiers to join the United Nations' mission in Mali, Western Africa, increasing the German contribution to a maximum of 1,100 officers. The proposal came in a joint letter to the cabinet from von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, leaked to news agency DPA.

The Bundeswehr has been part of the Mali mission since 2013, when the UN sent troops to help maintain a peace agreement after the France military conducted a military operation against Islamist rebel groups in the north of the country. There are a total of 12,000 UN soldiers in the country, as well as 1,700 UN police officers. Some 100 soldiers have been killed in Mali so far, with hundreds more seriously injured.

Germany is also intending to extend for another year the Bundeswehr's contribution to the UN mission in Darfur, South Sudan, and its contribution to the NATO Sea Guardian mission in the Mediterranean, which is supposed to secure shipping routes.

Germany currently has a total of 3,900 soldiers in active operations around the world.

But Can the Bundeswehr Manage?

But the German military has been dogged by stories of equipment shortages and underfundingin recent months, leading to the general perception that the Bundeswehr is not under-prepared in Europe. Some soldiers have already criticized von der Leyen's new ambitions.

The Darmstädter Signal, a "critical forum of citizens in uniform," said the army would struggle to fulfill the extra commitments. "No, it won't manage it," spokesman Florian Kling told broadcaster SWR. "We don't even have the planes to get our soldiers to the foreign missions. The situation with personnel and equipment is so tight that the Bundeswehr is actually close to collapse."

Kling also said that expanding the mission in Iraq would make it more dangerous for German soldiers. "Where troops are in movement, they will be in danger of touching mines and being attacked by terrorists," he said. "It can really only end badly."

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