- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

BERLIN, Feb. 21 (UPI) — German Defense Minister Peter Struck Friday announced Germany would withdraw troops from Afghanistan if the tension in the region escalates due to an U.S.-led strike on Iraq.

Struck told reporters the government already has prepared a contingency plan to evacuate German civilians and some 2,500 German troops deployed as a part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Although senior German media earlier had quoted German military officials as saying the ISAF forces would remain even if the U.S. administration wages war on Iraq, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeatedly has cautioned the international community about a possible increase in terrorist attacks in the event of such a war.

Germany, together with the Netherlands, took charge of the 22-nation ISAF command on Feb. 10.

Some 4,800 troops from 22 different nations are deployed in Afghanistan to maintain security. Although the security conditions have improved in and around the Afghan capital, Kabul, recently there have been attacks on ISAF personnel.

Struck's announcement comes one day after the Financial Times published a report quoting a confidential Foreign Ministry document expressing concern over the increased hostility toward peacekeeping troops.

The document said German troops may have to be withdrawn if the situation seriously deteriorates. It also warned that government troops belonging to the Northern Alliance were in a position to damage the work of ISAF, and also to block the routes to the Bagram military airport.

The German military base in Kabul has been the target of two missile attacks in the last few weeks and it faced a suicide bomb attack last year.

In the document, the Foreign Ministry said such attacks were the biggest threats to German soldiers. "In the event of a military operation in Iraq, a further worsening of the security situation can also be expected in Kabul," the document said.

However, the defense minister said the country's military will be trained to adapt itself for overseas missions.

Struck announced the country would spend $99 million (1.8 billion euro) on overseas operations, saving about $3.5 billion over the next 10 years, because of the improbability of a conventional attack on Germany.

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