Germany will commit up to 300 air force personnel to fly AWACS surveillance planes over Afghanistan. The Bundestag voted overwhelmingly to broaden the military mandate, with 407 MPs in favour of the expansion and 113 against, with 32 abstentions.
Up to 300 German airmen will take part in the mission, which will start by June at the latest. They will serve on NATO airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, which monitor Afghan airspace.
The decision raises Germany's upper limit on the number of troops it has in Afghanistan to 5,350 troops. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government said this will relieve NATO partners for the mission in Libya, to which Germany is not contributing.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has taken charge of a no-fly zone established over Libya with UN approval to stop Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's aerial bombardment of rebels and civilians. British and French fighters continued on Friday to pound Libyan military sites.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the broadening of the Bundeswehr's contribution in Afghanistan as a necessary step within the NATO alliance. Just because Germany was not helping in Libya “does not mean that we are putting our allies in danger in Libya,” he said.
Taking up some of the slack in Afghanistan was an “common-sense policy for the alliance,” he said.
The move was supported by the centre-right coalition as well as the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) but opposed by the environmentalist Greens and socialist Left party.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the SPD, called the AWACS operation “sensible” but slammed the government's hastiness. The mandate was rushed through parliament between Wednesday and Friday at a “breakneck speed” that disregarded the views of the parliament, he said.
The AWACS mandate, like the overall Afghanistan mandate, will run to January 31, 2012. Germany still plans to start drawing down its troops there at the beginning of next year.