Germany sending team to assess role in Afghanistan.

Germany will send an exploratory mission to Kunduz in northern Afghanistan to study the possible participation of German troops in US-led reconstruction teams beyond the capital Kabul, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Wednesday. Schroeder told journalists he considered it "politically fair" to extend the mandate of Germany's troops, who are currently involved in the multinational security assistance force (ISAF), whose mandate covers only the Afghan capital and its outskirts.

Schroeder said Germany's decision "should be taken rapidly" but would depend on the report of the exploratory team.

Earlier, the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said France and the Netherlands also were considering whether to join the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), which are small groups of soldiers and civilians with tasks such as rebuilding bridges, hospitals and schools as well as training the police and army.

The US army already supports PRTs in Kunduz, Bamiyan in central Afghanistan and Gardez in the east.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung cited German government sources as saying that the idea of having several countries take part was to share the burden.

The PRTs are aimed at boosting security in the provinces and strengthening the authority of the Kabul government.

Defense Minister Peter Struck said Wednesday that the government has not yet decided what mandate German forces would be placed under if they moved beyond Kabul.

Berlin is thought to want German participation in PRTs covered by an extension of the ISAF mandate to other parts of the country, which would then give operations legality under the United Nations.

Struck told soldiers in Strausberg near Berlin that another option would be to place the troops within the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom, which is part of the wider US-led "war on terrorism".

According to the German daily Tagesspiegel, Germany's role in Afghanistan may be one of the key topics if, as Berlin hopes, Schroeder meets US President George W. Bush next month on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York.

[Source: AFP, Berlin, Aug 13]

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