(photo credit: AP [file])
Thousands of protesters called Saturday for German troops to pull out of peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan, while Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the nation's presence there as necessary to ensure security.
In her weekly video podcast, Merkel insisted that helping Afghans to rebuild their nation was the only way to keep the country from again becoming a breeding ground for terrorists.
"We have no alternative, because we cannot leave Afghanistan to the hands of the terrorists," Merkel said.
"Since Sept. 11, 2001, we know that the security we defend in our own open, democratic countries must be defended in other countries where they lack sufficient governmental structures to do so themselves."
Three separate mandates for Germany's involvement in Afghanistan are coming up for debate and renewal later this year.
About 3,000 German troops are stationed mostly in the north of Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which is permitted under one of the mandates. Most politicians support the efforts, which combine providing military security with rebuilding civilian infrastructure.
In the vote on renewing the mission, that mandate has been coupled with another governing the use of Germany's six Tornado reconnaissance jets in Afghanistan, which the opposition Greens and others charge are providing NATO with information for bombing targets.
Some members of the Social Democrats - in coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats - also oppose keeping the jets in Afghanistan.
The third mandate authorizes participation in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which is focused on anti-terrorism combat missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Calls for an end to the Afghan missions have become louder, especially after a string of attacks on Germans in Afghanistan and after authorities foiled alleged terrorist plots to bomb US and other targets in Germany earlier this month.
Some 5,000 peaceful demonstrators in downtown Berlin also called for Germany to bring its troops home, insisting that efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan had fallen short and that international efforts were doing more harm than good.
At an extraordinary party conference held Saturday, members of the opposition Greens party urged their lawmakers to vote against the Tornado mandate, even if it means upsetting the nation's participation in the NATO force.
The Greens acknowledge that Germany needs to remain active in Afghanistan, but by investing more in reconstruction efforts and focusing less on the military aspect.