Germany Extends Mission in Afghanistan for Another Year

Germany will extend its mission in Afghanistan for another year, the government said Wednesday, despite the growing unpopularity of the war at home.

The decision requires parliamentary approval, which is expected before the current mandate expires in Dec. 13. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament.

The mission to Afghanistan has become increasingly unpopular with Germans. More than 30 soldiers have been killed as Taliban militants have become more entrenched in the north of the country where German soldiers serve in the NATO-led force.

But the government has not come under significant pressure to pull out. All the main political parties, including most of the opposition, support keeping German troops in the country.

More than 4,000 troops are serving in Afghanistan under a mandate that limits their number to no more than 4,500. The government said in a statement that limit would remain unchanged and the troops would be predominantly stationed in northern Afghanistan.

"The new German government stands behind Germany's international responsibility," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters after the Cabinet agreed to extend the mission for an additional 12 months.

"Our partners should know that our country remains a reliable partner for peace and security in the world," Westerwelle said.

A separate mandate for the deployment of radar-equipped surveillance aircraft known as AWACS, will not be prolonged, the government said. It was also due to expire Dec. 13, but will not be extended because the planes have been unable to receive permission to fly from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The government will also extend by a year a mission to fight piracy off the coast of Africa, although the number of troops will be reduced by 100 to 700. A third mission to patrol the Lebanese coastline will be extended until June 2010, although the number of troops will be reduced from 1,200 to 800.

Merkel, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has called for an international conference on the future path for Afghanistan to take place in early 2010.

Part of that mission will be to focus on how to begin winding down the international presence in the war-torn nation. Germany, along with its international partners, has been calling on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tackle corruption, following his disputed election earlier this year.

"We want to promote a concept of self-sustaining security," Westerwelle said. "We want to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans."