The German Government will ask Parliament today to send German soldiers to Afghanistan on AWACS operations – that is, to help crew these specially equipped reconnaissance aircraft.A kind of substitute contribution for our military abstinence in Libya – although as recently as January, Minister, you explicitly ruled out any German involvement in AWACS operations in Afghanistan.With this renewed stepping up of our engagement in the Hindu Kush, is the starting date for the withdrawal of our forces at all realistic?
The purpose of the AWACS operations, let’s remember, is to control and monitor airspace. The events in Libya of course confront us all now with new developments and new situations. Germany will not be participating in any military operation in Libya. However, the United Nations Resolution is now international law, that’s why we want to relieve the burden on our Allies. Incidentally, a new AWACS decision would have had to be taken anyway in the months ahead. One thing here is clear: the ceiling is still fixed at 5350 soldiers. That means there’ll be no new contingents assigned to serve in Afghanistan, the ceiling set in the mandate remains unchanged.
And 2011 as the starting date for withdrawal – is that still realistic?
As we heard just yesterday, the handover of responsibility region for region has already begun. That’s something I very much welcome. According to President Karzai’s announcement, a province and city in the north – in our area of responsibility, in other words – is among those in the first batch. And what’s important now of course is to achieve our goal to create an environment that will allow responsibility to be fully handed over by 2014.
… and to start in 2011?
In late 2011 we want for the first time to start withdrawing our own Bundeswehr contingent. As Parliament has laid down, however, (...), whether this will be feasible of course depends crucially on what the situation is like towards the end of the year. In other words, the safety of our remaining soldiers must not in any way be compromised.
If the AWACS operations also have this civilian function you mentioned, they’re important also for civilian air traffic, why don’t you let German AWACS crews help out in the airspace over Libya, as a German contribution in the current conflict?
That’s precisely the issue at stake here. When combat operations are supervised and coordinated by these aircraft, that amounts to direct military involvement.
But with your AWACS decision for Afghanistan, won’t Germany be indirectly involved anyway, since this will facilitate the aerial operation in Libya?How does this logistical assistance fit in with your demonstrative abstention in the UN Security Council?
On the one hand we remain adamant of course that German soldiers won’t be involved in this new military operation in Libya. On the other hand, however, we also have to take note of the fact that the United Nations has now made its decision. This decision is now international law. What’s important now is to implement the Resolution, so we’re helping in other ways to do just that. We’re stepping up our humanitarian aid for one thing, we’re making sure refugees are getting the help they need, for example, and we’re also providing funds for medical care. That’s all perfectly obvious.
Our navy won’t be allowed to help enforce the arms embargo, Minister, although just three weeks ago you argued in favour of a strong embargo. How will you decide about NATO assuming command of the no-fly zone operation? Will you be for or against?
We won’t go along with anything that means German involvement, Bundeswehr involvement in this military operation in Libya, that’s our red line. We’ve considered this very carefully, we’ve weighed all the options. Had we taken a different line in the Security Council, today we’d simply be debating how many German soldiers will be sent to Libya. Yet as all your questions show – although we’ve made our scepticism about this clear – the real issue for you now is why German soldiers are not participating in the military operation there. That was a very difficult decision and one we weighed very carefully. But considering also the way things are now developing, it’s clear this was the right decision.
Is this a definitive decision, that Germany’s won’t participate in the operation in Libya?Or is some kind of subsequent involvement not ruled out?
We’re providing humanitarian aid, we’re pushing for further sanctions – and I find it pretty unconvincing, by the way, for air strikes to be launched on the one hand and on the other for there still to be no comprehensive sanctions on Libyan oil exports, something clearly crucial to deprive Gaddafi’s system of new funds. Of course we all agree that Gaddafi’s system must go …
But the question has still not been answered – is some kind of subsequent involvement not ruled out?
I think I’d already answered the question quite clearly when I said German soldiers would not be involved in the operation in Libya. We’re not sending the Bundeswehr to Libya to participate in this new military operation. That’s our decision, we considered it very carefully and we’re fully convinced it’s the right decision.