BONN — Germany will cut its troop levels in Afghanistan by 25 percent to 3,300 soldiers by February 2014, but the military will also receive long-awaited additional helicopters.
Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced on Nov. 14 the new mandate to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan. Germany currently has about 4,800 troops deployed to the Hindukush. The mandate for their mission has to be prolonged by the parliament every year, and the new one will run for 13 month this time.
Extending the mandate by one month moves closer to the next Afghan presidential election, said de Maizièr.
The plan represents “a political rejection of the withdrawal of the combat troops by the end of 2014,” charged Frithjof Schmidt, the deputy parliamentary leader of the oppositional Bündniss 90/Die Grünen. “When in February 2014, still 3,300 soldiers of the Bundeswehr will be stationed in Afghanistan. This plan won’t be achievable in the remaining time frame.”
An important tool for the withdrawal, but also for the daily security of the Afghan mission, will be four new Tiger combat helicopters. According to the Handelsblatt newspaper, they will be deployed by Christmas this year.
The undersecretary of state at the Defense Ministry, Christian Schmidt, told the Handelsblatt that the Tigers will be equipped for close air support of ground troops. The German combat helicopters will conduct surveillance and security tasks, but also will engage in combat, Schmidt said, according to the newspaper. Thus far, German troops in Afghanistan have relied on the protection of U.S. combat helicopters.
Beginning in the spring of 2013, four NH90 transport helicopters also will be deployed, Schmidt said.
In view of the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the parliamentary leader of the largest opposition party, SPD, and former German foreign minister, advised for a period of reflection.
“We are well advised to think about what can be achieved and what not,” he told the newspaper Neue Westfälische. Regarding future international missions, he sees none looming on the horizon, despite discussions about sending military advisers for the conflict in the West African state of Mali.