The German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, voted overwhelmingly to extend three army missions in Africa for another year on Thursday. The army, known as the Bundeswehr, is currently engaged in one UN and one EU mission in Mali and another EU mission in Somalia.
The mandate for all three missions will run until late May of 2020.
Yet the deployment of German special forces units in Niger and Cameroon drew harsh criticism from parliamentarians who accused the government of illegally bypassing lawmakers.
The Bundeswehr is involved in the EU’s Operation Atalanta mission designed to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. The mission, which was launched in 2008, is tasked with securing shipping routes for international convoys transporting aid to suffering Somali citizens.
Piracy in the strategically important Horn of Africa has been greatly hampered due to the presence of EU naval forces according to the German government’s extension request to the Bundestag.
Currently, 80 German soldiers participate in the Atalanta mission. The mandate for the coming year, which the government estimates will cost around €40 million, will drop to a maximum of 400 soldiers, down from 600.
Concerns over the safety of the officers were voiced by Peter Bartels, parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which governs with Merkel’s Christian Democratic and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) parties.
Speaking of the deployments, Bartels said he was worried that German troops could be dragged into armed conflicts. Bartels acknowledged that other forces deployed to Niger had a mandate, but the special forces units did not.
Chancellor Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, brushed off concerns about the legality of the special forces’ deployments, saying soldiers were only tasked with training local forces and “not actively participating in operations.”
Seibert’s sentiments were echoed by the Defense Ministry. The speaker did, however, say that the government would provide parliamentarians with written information about the scope of the Niger and Cameroon missions.