The German government is not expecting to have a functioning cabinet before the end of the year, news magazine Der Spiegel said on Thursday, after it emerged that the country is planning to extend its military missions for three months.
The German army, or Bundeswehr, currently supports the international operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan with 980 troops, who train the Afghan army, and supports Iraq's fight against "Islamic State" by sending military equipment and providing training and advice to Iraqi officers.
But since all German military actions must be approved by the Bundestag, the government must ask parliament to approve any changes in the missions, which are extended 12 months at a time.
According to unnamed government sources cited by Der Spiegel, the German government intends to extend both these missions - due for reappraisal by the parliament in December - initially by three months unaltered at a parliamentary sitting at the end of October.
The move suggests the government does not expect to have a settled cabinet in December, by when the government has normally asked the Bundestag to approve changes in the number of military personnel for the whole of next year.
No new missions
The decision means that government will only decide in April 2018 whether the Bundeswehr's foreign missions will be changed.
As well as the officer training missions, German Tornado planes provide target identification imagery for NATO allies, while Luftwaffe planes supply refueling services to NATO partners.
These planes were previously stationed in the Incirlik base in Turkey, but after an extended diplomatic spat between the countries - during which the Bundestag defense committee was initially refused access to visit soldiers stationed there - Germany has since withdrawn its military presence at the base. This summer, the Bundeswehr decided to move its airbase to Jordan, from where they are expected to begin flying missions over Iraq in October.
In Afghanistan, German soldiers do not take part in fighting, and are based largely in the relatively secure northern region of the country, from where they offer operational planning advice to Afghan army officers. More than a third of Afghanistan is under Taliban control.
A more offensive Germany?
Over the last few years, German leaders have consistently signaled an intention to "take greater responsibility" in NATO military actions abroad, and the news that the German military mission in Afghanistan will be frozen for an extra three months is unlikely to please NATO allies. US President Donald Trump recently boosted troop numbers in Afghanistan, which led German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to suggest that Germany must follow suit - increasing the limit to 1,400 soldiers.
According to Der Spiegel, an internal government disagreement on the issue between the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry headed by Sigmar Gabriel led to a stalemate, and the decision was delayed until after the election. Given that, as things stand, Merkel could be forced to form a coalition with the Green party, which has traditionally taken a more pacifist line, expanding the Bundeswehr mission could prove tricky.