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Germany May Pull Special Forces From Afghanistan

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By Andreas Cremer

June 29 (Bloomberg) — German lawmakers are considering scaling back the country’s military commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, a move that could undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and strain U.S. ties.

The Social Democrats, one half of Merkel’s coalition, are drawing up plans to withdraw special forces engaged in U.S.-led efforts to fight the Taliban insurgency, lawmakers said. About 100 soldiers from the KSK special forces are deployed in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“A majority is emerging in the Social Democrats’ parliamentary caucus in favor of pulling the 100 special forces out of Operation Enduring Freedom,” Hans-Peter Bartels, who sits on the German Parliament’s 30-member defense committee, said in an interview. Fellow party lawmakers view Germany’s involvement as “a burden,” he said.

Any reduction of Germany’s military engagement would be a blow to Merkel and her Christian Democrats, who have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan, described by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as “one of the front lines” in the global fight against terrorism. Public opinion is against the deployment though, and the German Bundestag, or parliament, must vote by October 12 to renew troop deployments.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung’s position “is clear: We need parliament to back all troop mandates,” ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told a regular news conference in Berlin today.

`Critical Voices’

Social Democrat lawmaker Walter Kolbow, a deputy defense minister under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said there are “very many critical voices” about the operation within the party. It’s valid to ask “whether or not this operation is still wise,” given that North Atlantic Treaty Organization air raids are causing a growing number of Afghan civilian casualties, he said in an interview.

Germany currently has about 3,000 soldiers and other staff in Afghanistan with NATO-led forces and reconstruction teams. A mandate to participate in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force expires Oct. 13, the same date as the mandate for six Tornado fighter jets deployed in April to assist NATO- authorized reconnaissance and surveillance work. The special forces are under a separate mandate.

The Tornado deployment is the subject of an opposition-led legal challenge. Germany’s highest court is due to rule on the case on July 3.

Suicide Attack

German voters are uneasy about Germany’s military engagement in Afghanistan regardless of the mandate, polls show. Sixty-eight percent of 1,000 people questioned by Emnid oppose Germany’s military deployment, according to a poll published on May 22, three days after three German soldiers and five Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. No more than 29 percent said they supported the engagement.

Against that backdrop, Bartels said pulling out German special forces would free Germany of a “heavy burden” and make it easier for him and fellow legislators to vote in favor of extending the NATO-led ISAF mandate.

“We shouldn’t take responsibility for something we cannot at all influence,” Bartels said, noting that Operation Enduring Freedom is exclusively led by the U.S.

Sixty-nine lawmakers, almost a third of the Social Democrats’ 222-member parliamentary group, voted against Merkel’s motion in March to deploy Tornado jets. The Social Democrats, along with the opposition Greens and Left Party, would have sufficient seats in the 613-member Bundestag to block any extension of a mandate.

`Indispensable’

Merkel’s Christian Democrats counter that any step to weaken anti-terror efforts may undermine the ISAF-led civil rebuilding program for Afghanistan. German forces under ISAF may even be forced to engage in combat against the Taliban if the country withdrew from Operation Enduring Freedom, said Eckart von Klaeden, the Christian Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman.

“The fight against terror under the auspices of OEF is indispensable for the success of ISAF,” von Klaeden, an alternate member of parliament’s defense committee, said in an interview.

A 21-member group of Social Democrat defense, foreign policy and security experts is now working on a list of demands, including possible changes to Germany’s Afghanistan-related mandates. The proposals will be discussed by the party’s parliamentary caucus on July 4.

“When the summer recess is over, Merkel will have some work to do to persuade her Social Democrat allies” to stand by the Afghanistan commitment, Uwe Andersen, a professor of political science at the University of Bochum, said in an interview. “There’s no doubt that her sunny summit season is over. What’s needed now is leadership at home.”

Appeal for women’s protection ahead of conference on rule of law

Kabul, 29 June (AKI) – Ahead of the international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan in Rome next week, the vice president of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi has made an appeal to the international community to help protect the women of Afghanistan. “Help the legislative bodies in Afghanistan adopt and implement laws that provide protection for women, help the struggle against domestic violence for women, and raise awareness on women issues,” said Koofi in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

“More importantly support the system that provides justice to people”, Koofi told AKI. “Security will not be guaranted if people have no justice,” she said.

Rome will host an international conference on the justice system and rule of law in Afghanistan next week on 2-3 July. Italy is the lead country for the reform of Afghanistan’s justice system and the conference will be attended by representatives of governments and international institutions involved in the development of a coordinated strategy on the reform of Afghanistan’s justice system.

“Women don’t have protection in the family,” she said. “There are lots of cases of domestic violence against women, judges are not sensitive to women issues and as a result women prefer to burn or kill themselves if they are victims of violance,” Koofi said.

“I think during the past 5 years, there was some progress on the justice sector, for example, juvenile code has been developed and adopted, rehabilitation centres have been established for children,” she said. “However, comparing to the funds spent, there has not been much progress in terms of infrastructure,” said Koofi.

Koofi believes that there is a need to concentrate on the long-term training of judges and the law faculties at the university or under Sharia, because “short term courses of one week or so will not help.”

Training could also reduce the number of cases decided by local shuras. According to Koofi, 80 percent of women’s and children’s cases are dealt with local shuras.

The local tribunals in certain tribal areas of Afghanistan are composed of judges who “are not profession and uneducated, said the deputy president of Wolesi Jirga who stressed that in order to reform the process it is necessary to “integrate local shuras to the official justice sector of the country. The process “may take time, but it is needed for reform,” she said.

“If we are not able to strengthen our system to address people’s need in that sense, people may not trust us any more,” Koofi told AKI. In thsi sence the “rich justice system” that Italy has could be “used in many ways in post-conflict countries like Afghanistan,” she said.

In order to create an effective Afghan justice system, however it is necessary to improve the prison system, guarantee the security in the prisons and create “separate prisons for women and men,” Koofi concluded.

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Written by afghandevnews

June 29, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Security

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