Sat, May 11, 2013 - Page 6 News List

German chancellor pays surprise visit to Afghanistan

ULTIMATE SACRIFICE:A German special forces soldier was shot dead in Afghanistan last Saturday in an attack by insurgents in Baghlan Province

AFP, MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan yesterday to shore up morale among Germany’s 4,200 troops as foreign forces withdraw after more than a decade of fighting.

The war is increasingly unpopular in Germany, but Merkel told troops in Kunduz Province that political and economic progress was being made and that their contribution was making a difference.

“Progress is sometimes difficult, sometimes it is slower than we would like, but it is essential that our military involvement is not seen in isolation and that it is a success,” she said.

Germany, which has the third-biggest troop deployment in Afghanistan after the US and Britain, has cut numbers from 5,000 as the NATO pull-out gathers pace ahead of the end of the mission next year.

Merkel arrived in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and made a short trip to nearby Kunduz.

“She is here to support the troops, to attend briefings and to address concerns after our recent loss,” a military spokesman said, referring to the death last Saturday of the first German soldier to be killed in Afghanistan in two years.

Germany is the NATO coalition’s “lead nation” across nine provinces in northern Afghanistan, a relatively peaceful area compared with the insurgency hotbeds in the south and east.

However the German special forces soldier was shot dead when insurgents opened fire on a joint Afghan-German operation in Baghlan Province.

Merkel earlier condemned it as a “terrorist attack.”

Contributors to the NATO force such as Germany are weighing up how to schedule their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of next year while leaving behind a competent Afghan army and police force.

Last month Germany offered to keep 600-800 troops in Afghanistan for two years from 2015 to help further train and advise the security forces in their battle against the Taliban.

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