Berlin sending military force to Kuwait


GERMANY: Germany is sending 250 troops to Kuwait in the next three weeks as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, prompting speculation that the US may be planning a military attack against Iraq.

The deployment comes as the first German troops to serve in the international security force in Afghanistan arrived early this morning in Kabul.

The Defence Ministry in Berlin said 50 German soldiers will arrive in Kuwait next week and be supplemented by additional troops later in the month. The soldiers are drawn from the Bundeswehr ABC division, trained to deal with atomic, biological and chemical warfare.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is known to have manufactured and stockpiled large quantities of chemical and biological weapons in the decade since the Gulf War.

The Defence Ministry declined to comment on the details of the operation, saying only that it was part of Operation Enduring Freedom, to which Germany has committed almost 4,000 soldiers.

Germany is contributing another 1,200 soldiers to the British-led international force in Afghanistan.

The 70-strong force, comprising 50 paratroopers and 20 communications and medical officers, will be joined by a larger German contingent before the end of January.

The force was one of the key points agreed among members of Afghanistan's new interim authority at UN-sponsored talks on the country's future in Bonn last month.

The key function of the force is to maintain law and order in Kabul and its immediate surroundings for the interim government.

The German soldiers left Cologne airbase yesterday morning and flew to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to collect 30 Dutch troops. The combined forces travelled to Trebizond airbase in Turkey, before completing their journey at the Bagam airstrip outside Kabul.

Besides soldiers, Germany brought anti-mine vehicles and armoured carriers to Kabul yesterday.

The German contingent follows a prolonged political debate and two parliamentary votes, showing the soul-searching that military deployment still causes.

Post-war constitutional measures oblige the government to obtain parliamentary approval for every individual deployment of German troops on foreign soil.

The first parliamentary vote, on German participation in Operation Enduring Freedom, almost brought down the government.

The second vote for participation in the Kabul-based force passed through parliament with a cross-party consensus in late December, in the afterglow of the successful conclusion of UN talks in Bonn.