“We can withdraw from where we are not urgently needed,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), said Friday night on ZDF television. “I don’t see a need for more strike forces.”
SDP leader Sigmar Gabriel echoed those sentiments in an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.
“The SPD will not agree in parliament to any kind of increase in fighting forces,” he said.
The comments put the SPD leadership on a collision course with the government regarding future troop plans for Afghanistan.
On Friday, the DPA news agency, citing unnamed sources, reported that Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg wanted to increase German troop levels in Afghanistan by some 1,500 soldiers. That would bring the total number serving there from 4,500 to 6,000.
However, the Defence Ministry denied the report on Friday, saying it lacked “any foundation.” Earlier in the week, Guttenberg had told lawmakers that more troops were needed in Afghanistan to train local forces and that the number of German troops currently there was “far from” what was needed.
The SPD, which held a conference on Afghanistan on Friday, released a position paper that, in addition to rejecting more fighting troops, supported a doubling of the number of German units training Afghan police. The party also called for the withdrawal of Tornado surveillance jets and a step-by-step reduction in the number of troops participating in the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2011.
“A withdrawal corridor for German soldiers between 2013 and 2015 is realistic and doable,” Steinmeier said.