BERLIN (AP) â€” Germany’s lower house of parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved extending the deployment of 3,000 troops and six reconnaissance jets in Afghanistan for another year, despite mounting public skepticism about the mission.
The vote in the 613-seat Bundestag â€” 454-79 with 48 abstentions â€” was the final step needed to extend the mission.
Public opinion polls recently indicated most Germans want the troops to come home following attacks on German forces and kidnappings of German citizens there.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had pressed for a renewal, arguing that a pullout would open the door for Taliban and Al-Qaida to once again use Afghanistan as a base for terrorism â€” and endanger years of progress in rebuilding the country.
Social Democratic lawmaker Gert Weissenkirchen said a German refusal could lead to abandonment of Afghanistan by other Western countries. Then, “Afghanistan would again fall into the hands of the Taliban,” he said. “Therefore I ask you to think it over carefully. A no vote would lead to giving terrorism a chance to further establish itself, to insult people, to repress women.”
Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, a left-wing Social Democrat, said during the Bundestag debate that troops were needed to support rebuilding schools so that Afghan children, especially girls who were banned from schools by the Taliban, had a chance to get an education.
“Seventy percent of the population is under 25 and we want, through building up of the educational system and above all through elementary education, to give children and youth â€” and precisely girls â€” the chance to go to school,” Wieczorek-Zeul said.
The all-weather jets from the Luftwaffe’s Tactical Reconnaissance Wing 51 “Immelmann,” supported by 280 personnel, are based near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and can provide faster, farther-ranging photographic information to assist security forces on the ground than can unpiloted drones, according to the German air force.
Most of the 2,800 German ground troops are in the north of the country as part of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. Germany has resisted any suggestion they should take part in the heavier fighting in the south of the country.
The head of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary faction, former Defense Minister Peter Struck, said the mission had already been a success and the situation in the north had become “much more stable.” At the same time he warned the mission could remain in place for another decade.