German army forms sixth tank battalion

The German army is growing for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Germany's defense minister said the new tank battalion will help the country meet its NATO commitments.

The German army will be strengthened with a sixth tank battalion in response to rising security concerns in Europe, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced on Thursday.

"With this, the German army will grow for the first time in decades," von der Leyen said at a military base near the western city of Münster. 

Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?

The formation of the 363rd Tank Battalion will begin in October next year, with battalion staff and the first of four companies to be stationed at the Hardheim military base south of Frankfurt.

Politics

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

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Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

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Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

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Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

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More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

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German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

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Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.

A second company will become active in October 2021, followed by the transfer of another two companies to Hardheim from bases in the states of Bavaria and Thuringia.

More than 100 Leopard 2 tanks are currently being upgraded, some of which will join the 363rd Panzer Battalion, von der Leyen said.

The formation of the 500 soldier-strong battalion comes as Germany increases its defense spending in response to security threats from Russia and pressure from the United States to meet NATO defense budget targets.

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