MAINZ, Germany - Germany announced it will arm Kurdish fighters battling ISIS extremists in Iraq, the first time it will send weapons into an ongoing conflict since the end of World War II.
Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her government's decision on Monday, calling ISIS a major security threat to Germany and Europe as a whole.
"The far-reaching destabilization of an entire region affects Germany and Europe," she said in a speech to parliament. "When terrorists take control of a vast territory to give themselves and other fanatics a base for their acts of terror, then the danger rises for us, then our security interests are affected."
"The immense suffering of many people cries out, and our own security interests are threatened," she added.
The list of weapons Germany will send includes sophisticated rifles, portable anti-tank rocket launchers, machine guns and hand grenades. The equipment valued at more than $90 million was set to be delivered in three stages starting next month, and be enough to supply a brigade of 4,000 soldiers, according to German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
“It is a difficult move for the German government because Germany will now always be measured by this decision in future conflicts,” retired general Harald Kujat, the former Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, told NBC News.
“The Germans have chosen an approach, which shows that they are prepared for a long term engagement in solving the conflict,” he said. “Germany shows that it wants to play an influential role on the world stage and no longer wants to stand on the sidelines.”
German intelligence officials are also concerned about the over 400 Germans thought to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS and what they will do when they return home.
In spite of security warnings, the German public has been reluctant to support the weapon shipments and instead has tended to support humanitarian missions and aid. A poll published by German broadcaster ZDF last week showed that 67 percent are against sending weapons to the Kurds.