Merkel makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Updated: 2013-05-11 08:40

(China Daily/Agencies)

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprise visit on Friday to northern Afghanistan to see her troops less than two weeks after insurgents killed a German special-forces soldier and wounded a second, a military spokesman said.

Germany is the only NATO member that has so far committed troops to Afghanistan after the coalition completes its scheduled pullout of combat forces next year. The United States is likely to deploy several thousand troops if the Afghan government provides them legal protection.

Merkel makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel visits troops as she makes a surprise visit to Bundeswehr base in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Friday. Kay Nietfeld / Reuters

Merkel flew to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after sunrise on Friday. She was expected to stay only a few hours, said the spokesman. She was traveling with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

On May 4, insurgents firing rockets killed a German soldier and wounded a second in northern Baghlan province. It was the first death of a German special-forces soldier in Afghanistan. Considered to be the military's elite forces, the German special-forces soldiers are similar to the US Navy SEALS. They were accompanying an Afghan-led military operation at the time. Since 2002, 35 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

At the northern Kunduz military base, Merkel and the defense minister laid a wreath at a memorial wall, which is etched with the names of the 35 German soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. The wreath, in honor of Germany's latest casualty, read only "Task Force 47, Special Forces", because special-forces soldiers remain anonymous even in death.

Merkel said Germany "will keep an eye on the political process moving forward here", German news agency DPA reported.

She emphasized Berlin's intention to continue its military involvement in Afghanistan after 2014 and encouraged other nations to follow suit. "Of course, the Bundeswehr has shown, across its area here, how international cooperation can work well," Merkel said.

With more than 4,000 troops deployed in northern Afghanistan, Germany is the third-largest international troop contributor in Afghanistan. Germany has pledged to leave 800 soldiers in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission closes at the end of 2014.

The US is expected to keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan as a residual force after 2014, but no final decision has been made.

Germany's troops would stay until 2017 to provide training, advice and support for Afghanistan's security forces. They would be stationed in the capital, Kabul, and in Mazar-e-Sharif. After 2017 Germany has said it would be prepared to contribute 200 to 300 troops.

The final decision on Germany's post-2014 deployment will be made by the next German government following September elections. Polls show Merkel is likely to win a third four-year term.

The Afghanistan mission, while largely unpopular among Germans, is supported by Germany's mainstream political parties.

The country's offer of troops also requires an invitation from the Afghan government.

At a ceremony in Kabul on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he wanted each of NATO's 28 members to negotiate directly with his government about how many soldiers it wants to keep in Afghanistan, where they will be deployed and how the contingents would benefit the country.

Protracted negotiations between the US and Afghanistan over conditions for American troops after 2014 have so far not produced an accord. The US insists on immunity from local prosecution as a condition.

There were no plans for Merkel to meet with Karzai or talk to the Afghan president on the phone.

"It is only a visit of our troops," the German military spokesman said.