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NATO is considering a request by its senior commander in Afghanistan to deploy Germany-based surveillance aircraft to the war zone to better manage air traffic, U.S. and NATO officials said Wednesday. The alliance’s military committee, which advises the North Atlantic Council, a political body, met privately Tuesday to consider the issue for the first time. Officials said more discussions are needed before the committee can recommend to the council whether to send NATO E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft to Afghanistan.

"It’s not so straightforward," said a NATO official who requested anonymity. "It’s quite complicated."

While the alliance has surveillance aircraft in England, officials said the requested aircraft would likely come from the larger AWACS component based in Geilenkirchen, Germany. U.S. personnel are assigned to the unit, but German airmen make up the largest contingent, about 35 percent. The German Parliament is expected to address the issue in September, according to German media reports.

"There is no tasking (order)," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Richard Komurek, a spokesman at the NATO air base in Geilenkirchen. "Nothing has been decided right now. We are just waiting."

Komurek said if the request is approved the force would probably supplement the current AWACS fleet, which is American. However, the E-3As at Geilenkirchen are NATO assets, so the principal task would be to support the alliance’s mission.

The number of planes within Afghanistan’s airspace has increased over time, said German air force Col. Klaus Bücklein, spokesman for the Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters in Brunssum, Netherlands. Besides NATO and U.S. military aircraft, there are more humanitarian and commercial flights. The arrival of AWACS aircraft would allow NATO "to de-conflict that a little bit and get a better picture of the air traffic." NATO’s military committee is "studying the option," said Italian navy Cmdr. Giovanni Galoforo, a spokesman for the committee. "It’s too early to say anything."

A key to the proposal is the support of the German government. Der Spiegel, a weekly German magazine, has reported that lawmakers probably won’t debate the merits of the request until September. Several officials said Wednesday it is too soon to say how many planes and personnel would be needed. Such details would likely be part of the committee’s recommendation to the North Atlantic Council.


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