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Iraq War Could Inflame Anti-Western Sentiment in Afghanistan, says Germany - 2003-02-21

Germany says a war in Iraq is likely to inflame anti-western sentiment in Afghanistan, and could lead Berlin to pull its troops out of the International Security Assistance Force there.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck's remarks followed the leaking of a confidential report by Germany's Foreign Ministry that says hostility toward the West is increasing, not only among supporters of al-Qaida and the Taleban, but also among the Afghan government's security forces.

According to the report, Afghan government troops are able to hamper the work of the international peacekeeping force in Kabul, and cut off access to Bagram air base, which is used by the force.

The report says the risk of terrorist attacks against the force, known as ISAF will grow, if war erupts in Iraq.

Mr. Struck said it would take just under a week to evacuate foreign aid workers, if tensions explode. He added that the withdrawal of troops would follow. On a recent visit to Afghanistan, Mr. Struck, who was forced to take shelter, when two rockets landed near the German troops' compound in Kabul, said it would take just under a week to evacuate foreign aid workers out of country if tensions explode. He added that withdrawal of troops would follow.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said a withdrawal of German soldiers would be ordered only if there were an emergency.

Germany and the Netherlands took over joint command of ISAF earlier this month. In the next few weeks, the force is expected to comprise 5,000 troops from 30 countries, but half of them German.

Berlin's decision to take on a leadership role in Afghanistan was made in an effort to improve ties with the United States, which have been damaged by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's anti-war rhetoric and his refusal to back any military action against Iraq.

Mr. Schroeder has always maintained that the West should concentrate on fighting terrorism, and he has tried to boost Germany's role in that battle. He sees the deployment of German troops to Afghanistan as part of the war on terror.

Mr. Struck has proposed that NATO take over peacekeeping responsibilities in Afghanistan because of the limited number of countries that are capable of taking charge of ISAF. The German-Dutch mandate runs out in August.

NATO already provides logistical and planning support to the force, and NATO officials say they are talking with the U.S. government about having the alliance assume a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan.