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Defense minister cancels Afghan troop visit over security concerns

Germany's defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, has visited Afghanistan to see Bundeswehr soldiers in action there. However, one base visit was called off due to fighting with Taliban militants.

Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg speaks with a German soldier in Kunduz.

Guttenberg once served as a junior officer in the Bundeswehr

German Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg had intended to fly into the field, beyond the walls of the major Bundeswehr base in Kunduz, Afghanistan, to see front line troops working with the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) out of a small camp in Baglan.

However, the troop commander there advised Guttenberg on Friday to cancel his plans because the QRF soldiers were engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban militants in the northern region.

"Security takes precedence, also for the men there," the defense minister said, after stepping back off his helicopter that was bound for Baglan. Guttenberg had been airborne for roughly 10 minutes when he was advised to turn back.

The Bundeswehr commander in Kunduz, Colonel Reinhardt Zudrop, said it's always possible for fighting to break out in the region, where four German troops were killed three months ago.

"The incident is in keeping with the general picture of high activity we have been experiencing in the northern region of late," Zudrop said.

Guttenberg with German troops in Kunduz

One of the aims of Guttenberg's visit is to boost the morale of soldiers

Guttenberg had insisted on visiting the troops in a more volatile region on his visit, saying he wanted to get the soldiers' view of the situation and motivate them in a critical phase of their mission.

Earlier, Guttenberg visited the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force for northern Afghanistan in Mazar-i-Sharif and took part in a ceremony to deploy 40 new US-made helicopters in the region.

The helicopters are tasked with providing logistical support to the German troops, such as providing transport for the wounded. The defense minister traveled on to Kunduz, where he expressed concerns over the increasing "professionalism" of Taliban militants.

Guttenberg's two-day visit to Afghanistan was his fourth since taking office as defense minister. He is due back in Berlin on Friday evening.

Author: Mark Hallam (dpa/apn/AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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