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Germany to debate new Afghanistan mandate

BERLIN (Reuters) - Leading politicians from Germany’s governing coalition will discuss a new parliamentary mandate for the country’s troops in Afghanistan next week, sources close to the coalition said on Thursday.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung gestures during a debate of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Germany has come under increasing pressure from NATO partners to step up its efforts in Afghanistan, where a parliamentary mandate limits the number of German troops to 3,500 in NATO’s 43,000 strong force.

This mandate expires in October and Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition are to debate its successor, one government official and one member of parliament said, requesting anonymity.

It was not clear whether or by how much the number of troops would be increased.

“It’s too early to speculate on what a new mandate might look like,” Guenter Gloser, a minister of state in the German foreign ministry, said.

The government denied media reports at the weekend that it planned to increase troops by 1,000 to 4,500 soldiers and wanted to broaden their base of operation from the north to the west. But speculation about an increase in the number of troops has persisted.

The Frankfurter Rundschau cited unnamed coalition sources as saying an increase of at least 500 troops was expected and that the parliamentary mandate would definitely be changed.

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Germany has agreed to send around 200 combat soldiers to north Afghanistan as part of a NATO Quick Reaction Force this summer, which would bring the total number of its troops close to the 3,500 allowed by the mandate.

Military experts have said the government might want to consider a small boost in numbers in the new mandate so as to have a buffer zone available for special situations.

The Afghanistan mission is unpopular in Germany, where polls show only a minority of voters in favour of increasing troops or of sending them to dangerous southern parts of Afghanistan, as Washington has asked Berlin to do.

Officials have said the government could extend the duration of the next mandate from the current 12 months to prevent a new debate from coinciding with a general election next year.

Reporting by Markus Krah and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Kerstin Gehmlich; Editing by Charles Dick