German Bundeswehr army soldiers demonstrate their skills at Kaserne Hochstaufen (mountain infantry military barracks) in Bad Reichenhall, southern Germany, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle(reuters_tickers)
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is to increase its army by 5,000 soldiers, the defence ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the total to 198,000 in 2024, at a time when U.S. pressure is mounting on European NATO members to raise military spending.
"The German army faces demands like never before," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that the army had to be able to respond in an appropriate way to developments abroad and security concerns.
Germany, reluctant for decades after World War Two to get involved in military missions abroad, has in the last few years become more active in supporting international deployments such as in Afghanistan, Mali and against Islamic State militants.
In January, Germany sent a battlegroup of more than 1,000 to Lithuania as part of a NATO mission to protect its eastern border with Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
On top of the 5,000 extra soldiers, Germany is also adding 1,000 civilians posts and about 500 reserves.
The increase, long flagged by von der Leyen, comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing NATO members, especially from Europe, to raise their military spending.
The defence alliance in 2014 agreed to end years of defence cuts and meet a target of spending 2 percent of economic output on defence by 2024. German defence spending is currently at 1.22 percent.
A defence ministry spokeswoman said provided the plan goes ahead, the increase would mean additional costs of about 955 million euros (£809.2 million) per year from 2024.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Ed Osmond)