Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Merkel pays first visit to Afghanistan

REUTERS , KABUL

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first visit to Afghanistan yesterday and is expected to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and visit some of the 3,000 German troops stationed in the country.

Germany's parliament voted last month to renew the deployment of its troops -- who are mostly based in the relatively peaceful north of the country -- for another year, defying public opinion which is strongly against the mission.

The mandate is controversial in Germany, which has only gradually expanded its role in overseas military missions since the end of World War II.

The deaths of 26 Germans serving under NATO's command in Afghanistan in recent years have further eroded public support. A newspaper poll showed only 29 percent of Germans backed the extension of the mission.

But NATO allies, engaged in heavy fighting to contain a Taliban insurgency in the south and east of the country, would like to see Germany allow its troops to do more.

Berlin and some other alliance nations restrict where and how their troops may be deployed in Afghanistan and bar them from engaging in military operations. German troops, NATO commanders say, are even forbidden to patrol at night.

A German embassy spokesperson in Kabul confirmed Merkel had arrived in the Afghan capital.

Afghan media said she was expected to meet Karzai in Kabul and travel to Mazar-i-Sharif, the main base for German troops in the north.

NATO troops have been stationed in Afghanistan in the wake of the overthrow of Taliban's government in 2001.

The Taliban have regrouped in the past two years and are engaged in daily clashes against the Afghan government and foreign troops led by NATO and the US military.

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