Ursula von der Leyen.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Dirk Vorderstraße, used under CC BY

Thousands of new soldiers are set to join the ranks of the Bundeswehr in the coming years, said German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen Tuesday as she announced a recruitment plan that would put to an end 25 years of military cuts and downsizing.

Von der Leyen said that the armed forces must increase by 14,300 soldiers and 4,400 civilian posts in the next seven years, but only announced plans for an initial 7,000 new recruits.

Another 5,000 positions are to be filled through internal restructuring, she said.

But even with the new posts, the Defence Ministry still has well more than 2,000 military positions to create before it meets its target.

"It is demanded of the Bundeswehr in all areas to modernize. For us, that means a break from the trend," von der Leyen said. "We have to get away from the process of permanently downsizing."

An alliance representing German soldiers and military veterans welcomed what it called a "180-degree" policy reversal by the defence minister.

"This change in trend is not just words; she is actually presenting a 180-degree turn in personnel policy," said Andre Wuestner, head of the Bundeswehr Association.

Wuestner criticized the policies of von der Leyen's predecessors, who oversaw cuts to army funding and personnel in the past decades.

Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Bundeswehr has shrunk from 585,000 soldiers to 177,000.

Alongside 16 foreign deployments, the Germany is also stepping up its military presence on NATO's eastern borders in the face of an increasingly assertive Russia.

German troops have also been deployed within the country to support local authorities overwhelmed by the recent influx of refugees and migrants.

The new plans abandon a previous limit on troop numbers set at 185,000.

Von der Leyen has also proposed a boost in military funding from 34.3 billion euros (39 billion dollars) to 39.2 billion euros by 2020, pending parliamentary approval.

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