Germany will compensate for its non-participation in the United States-led military operation in Libya by sending around 300 additional troops to Afghanistan to relieve its NATO partners involved in airborne surveillance there for similar operations in the war-torn North African nation.
The German cabinet on Wednesday decided that German soldiers will replace the crew operating the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft flying over Afghanistan.
Germany's proposal to send additional soldiers to Afghanistan was endorsed by the NATO, which has the overall command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan as well as the AWACS operations.
The German government, which has been facing mounting criticism at home and abroad over its decision to abstain from last Thursday's voting on a UNSC resolution authorising a military intervention to enforce a "no-fly" zone over Libya, is hoping that its contribution will ease the pressure on the alliance in conducting two AWACS operations simultaneously.
"It is a token of our solidarity with the NATO, but it will also significantly ease the burden on the alliance in the background of the events in Libya," German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere told mediaperons after the cabinet meeting.
Without Germany's support, it will be very difficult for the NATO to operate AWACS aircraft in two conflict regions, he said.
The AWACS is one of the most prestigious and heavily funded projects of the North Atlantic Alliance. The special versions of the Boeing 707 aircraft, with their powerful "electronic eyes" have the capability to locate and identify tanks, armoured vehicles, aircraft, ships or other objects from a distance of 400 kilometres and to direct allied fighter aircraft on combat missions.
Modern versions of the aircraft have a 17-member crew, which includes many computer and radar specialists. The NATO has a fleet of more than 24 AWACS aircraft.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany is sending additional soldiers to Afgfhanistan as an expression of solidarity with its NATO partners.
Germany's contribution will enable its partners to fully concentrate on their AWACS surveillance missions crucial for their military operation in Libya, he said.
Participating in a parliamentary debate on a draft legislation seeking a mandate for the AWACS mission, Westerwelle reaffirmed his government's position that it abstained from the UNSC voting because it did not want to get involved in the Libyan conflict.
The proposed AWACS mission in Afghanistan will give Germany an opportunity "to support its partners without directly getting involved in the conflict", he said.
Germany on Tuesday withdrew its warships from the Mediterranean to avoid being dragged into the conflict after the NATO began enforcing a UN-authorised naval blockade of Libya to prevent weapons and mercenaries reaching the forces loyal to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
Germany has around 4,500 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF.