Germany backs Lebanon extension, ups Afghan aid

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet has agreed to extend by 15 months the mandate for German troops patrolling off the coast of Lebanon to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the country.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said the cabinet had also agreed to increase reconstruction aid to Afghanistan to 170 million euros from 140 million in anticipation of elections there.

The Lebanon deployment, part of a 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force, began in the autumn of 2006 following Israel’s month-long war with Hezbollah and currently comprises about 230 German soldiers operating off the coast.

The extension must be approved by the German parliament. It was set for 15 months instead of the usual 12 to keep the decision from coloring the German election campaign ahead of a September 2009 federal vote.

Later this year, Germany plans to increase the number of troops it can send to Afghanistan by 1,000 to 4,500. German soldiers are stationed mainly in the north of the country and Berlin has resisted pressure from allies to deploy them in the more dangerous south.

Polls show a majority of Germans oppose that mission, which has led to the death of 28 German soldiers since early 2002, including 12 from attacks.

“We can’t deny that the security situation in our operating area in the north has become more tense,” German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung told a security conference in Berlin on Tuesday. “But we must not just look at military issues but must also focus on civilian reconstruction.”

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