Schroeder: Germany Readies 3,900 Troops

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Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered up to 3,900 German troops for the U.S. war on terrorism Tuesday, backing up Germany's pledge of solidarity with the United States.

The historic offer to ready German troops could lead to the nation's widest-ranging military engagement since World War II. But reflecting Germany's reluctance to become embroiled in combat, Schroeder said there are no immediate plans to deploy ground troops.

"This is an important, fundamental and -- if you like -- historic decision," Schroeder said.

Germany's participation would include help combating nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; about 100 special forces; medical evacuation services; air transport; and naval forces to protect shipping lanes, Schroeder told a news conference.

Schroeder has been eager to put Germany in the forefront of the coalition's military response to terrorism, and said he expected to win the German parliament's approval next week.

He said the government's positive response to the specific U.S. requests was issued in "a solidarity that I have expressed again and again" since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Britain has been Washington's staunchest NATO ally in the anti-terror campaign, flying refueling and reconnaissance missions in support of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. It had also fired Tomahawk cruise missiles from a submarine in the Arabian Sea.

Canada, another major contributor, has provided ships, aircraft, special forces and 2,000 other personnel. Italy has offered to supply an armored regiment, attack helicopters, fighter jets and specialists in nuclear, chemical and germ warfare for the coalition.

Other contributors include Australia with SAS special forces, war ships and aircraft; New Zealand with a commitment of special forces and humanitarian aid; and Turkey, which pledged an anti-guerrilla mountain warfare unit.

Japan has been examining various options, including sending warships and personnel to help with refueling and reconnaissance missions in the Indian Ocean.

"We mustn't forget that the military measures are only a part of the measures against international terrorism," Schroeder said.

While insisting that Germany also must contribute militarily, Schroeder emphasized the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to hold the international coalition together, the humanitarian mission to help Afghans, economic sanctions aimed at undermining terror networks and cooperation of secret services.

The government's proposal to parliament would initially limit authority to deploy German troops to one year, Schroeder said. He emphasized, however, that the year did not reflect any calculation that the campaign would be over by then.

"I cannot say how long the campaign against international terrorism will last," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Schroeder informed leaders of political parties after a meeting of the national security council, the German government's highest body in times of crisis.

"It's now about putting solidarity with the Americans into practice," said Friedrich Merz, parliamentary leader of the main opposition Christian Democrats.

Schroeder's cabinet is to consider the U.S. request Wednesday and parliament could approve a German deployment next week, Merz said.

Schroeder has pledged "unlimited solidarity" with the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and repeatedly stressed that Germany would have to take a military role in the fight against international terror.

Guido Westerwelle, a leader of the small opposition Free Democratic Party who was among those briefed by Schroeder, said he sees "no alternative for Germany."

"No country is neutral in the international battle against terrorism, and that includes Germany," he told reporters outside the chancellery in Berlin. "We are threatened too and that is why we must defend ourselves against terrorism."