BERLIN- Germany on Wednesday approved plans to supply crews for NATO surveillance aircraft over Afghanistan and withdraw staff from the Mediterranean to avoid military involvement in Libya.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet endorsed sending up to 300 German AWACS aerial reconnaissance personnel to Afghanistan, government sources said, under a policy of easing the burden on NATO while refusing to take part in strikes on Libya.
The government has come under fire at home for breaking ranks with NATO allies the United States, France and Britain when it abstained last week in a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising the Libyan action.
Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Germans would be withdrawn from AWACS reconnaissance aircraft over the Mediterranean but denied this was a direct exchange.
De Maiziere restated Berlin's reservations about the Libyan mission and said taking part in AWACS operations over the Mediterranean, which would aid strikes on Libya, would require a mandate from the German parliament.
"If we moved from pure reconnaissance to possible participation in operational deployments, then we would need a mandate from the Bundestag. We don't want to seek this because we're not participating in this military action," he told Deutschlandfunk radio.
NATO's AWACS operation is based in Germany and about a third of the personnel are German. Deployment to Afghanistan, where Berlin has about 5,000 troops, aims to free up U.S. AWACS crews there so that they can move to the Mediterranean.
"This is material relief for NATO and a political sign of our solidarity with the alliance," said de Maiziere, an ally of Merkel and fellow Christian Democrat (CDU).
The CDU faces a fight to hold on to Baden-Wuerttemberg, one of Germany's biggest states, in elections on Sunday.
Since World War Two Germans have been traditionally wary of foreign military operations and all such missions require approval from the Bundestag.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, head of Merkel's Free Democrat (FDP) coalition allies, had until now argued against Germany crewing AWACS over Afghanistan.
Germany had declined a NATO request last year to boost AWACS flights there.
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