A last-phase extension of Germany's 12-year-long military deployment in Afghanistan has been endorsed by the German cabinet. It also endorsed a plan to sent extra training personnel to Mali.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday recommended to parliament that it extend Germany's military deployment in Afghanistan until late December, the planned end of the NATO-led international combat mission.
The Bundestag parliament is due on February 21 to make decisions on whether to mandate German military deployments, including 10 further months for Afghanistan and a plan to send extra personnel to train Mali's army.
The cabinet, meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, also adopted a report on trends in Afghanistan which said the security situation in most regions was "sufficiently controllable," with the exception of eastern and southern areas.
Germany began reducing troop numbers in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) two years ago. Of the more than 5,000 once stationed, mostly in northern Afghanistan, some 3,100 remain.
Beyond 2014, NATO plans to provide between 8,000-12,000 soldiers without combat mandates, to train and advise Afghan security forces.
Karzai's signature awaited
This plan hinges though on whether President Hamid Karzai signs a bilateral security agreement with the United States, which has a dominant role in ISAF. So far, he has refused to do so, accusing the US of killing civilians in airstrikes.
Germany has offered to provide between 600 and 800 soldiers for two years beyond 2014 to assist in northern Afghanistan and the capital Kabul, combined with hundreds of millions of euros in development aid.
More trainers for Mali
At its Wednesday sitting, the cabinet also decided that Germany's mission in Mali could be expanded to 250 military trainers from the previous permissible limit of 180, possibly via the Franco-German Brigade.
It proposed that the mission's mandate be extended until February 2015 and issued a press statement, saying progress was being made after Mali's recent elections.
In Mali, where France began a military intervention early last year to counter Islamist extremists and Tuareg rebels, Germany currently has some 100 personnel to train engineering units of the Malian army as part of an EU mission.
The training is sited in Koulikoro, a relatively quiet location in southern Mali, about 60 kilometers from its capital Bamako.
Mali is one of seven small German deployments across Africa, involving 550 personnel in all, including naval crews sent to stem piracy off the Horn of Africa.
Africa - main focus
Shortly after the cabinet session, it was reported that Germany's new defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, had set out on a visit to Africa. Her destinations were not disclosed.
Earlier, she had said that half of Mali's population was younger than 15. They needed opportunities instead of resorting to emigration, she said.
"And that's why it is so important that statutory structures are established [in Mali], that stability prevails."
The new German development aid minister Gerd Müller told the German news agency DPA that he was in close contact with his French counterparts to "better coordinate and strengthen" civilian structures in Mali.
"Mali is a positive example, because within a relatively short period, it has been possible to reestablish stability," Müller said, adding that Africa would be his main priority as development minister.
Germany began a major reorganization of its Bundeswehr armed forces in 2010. The reform foresees 185,000 soldiers of which up to 10,000 could be deployed abroad on internationally mandate missions.
ipj/kms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
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