Germany Readies 3,900 Troops

The German chancellor pledged up to 3,900 German troops for the U.S. war on terrorism Tuesday, pushing the nation toward its most far-reaching participation in military action since World War II.

Gerhard Schroeder's decision to seek a leading role in the anti-terror campaign is a new step in Germany's quest for greater world influence as it sheds its reluctance to join in warfare. However, the chancellor said there were no plans to send ground troops, and the defense minister said German forces would not necessarily be deployed inside Afghanistan.

Germany would offer armored vehicles equipped to detect nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; special forces; a medical evacuation unit; and air transport and naval forces to protect shipping lanes, Schroeder told a news conference.

"This is an important, fundamental and ! if you like ! historic decision," Schroeder said, adding he expects parliament to give its approval next week.

Schroeder and key aides have prepared a wavering public for weeks for a German military role, saying the nation could not stand aside and provide only financial backing as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Schroeder's offer, though short on specifics, would put Germany in the forefront of U.S. allies supporting the campaign ! second only to Britain, which is flying refueling and reconnaissance missions in support of U.S. airstrikes and has also fired Tomahawk missiles at Afghan targets.

Schroeder said his government's positive response to specific U.S. requests for military support underscored "a solidarity that I have expressed again and again" since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Cabinet would approve the plan Wednesday, he said.

But he also sought to address concerns among many Germans ! including members of his center-left governing coalition ! that the envisaged deployment is a step too far in military involvement abroad, which began after Germany reunited in 1990.

He stressed the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to hold the international coalition against terrorism together, the humanitarian mission to help Afghans, economic sanctions aimed at undermining terror networks and cooperation of secret services.

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

People's Daily Online ---