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Fighting forces Guttenberg to cancel Baghlan trip

The German defense minister has had to cancel a trip to a German army camp in northern Afghanistan because of fighting between the troops and Taliban militants.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in Kunduz

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in Kunduz

It was a last minute cancelation. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was on his way to visit the German camp of Quick Reaction Force (QRF) troops in Baghlan, when the news of the clashes between the troops and the Taliban came. The troop commander advised Guttenberg to cancel the trip because of security reasons. His helicopter turned back immediately. "Security takes precedence, also for the men there," Guttenberg said.

Earlier Guttenberg paid a visit to the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force for Northern Afghanistan in Mazar-e-Sharif. There he took part in a ceremony to deploy 40 new US-made helicopters in the region. The machines are supposed to give logistical support to the German troops, such as providing transport for the wounded. After that, the defense minister traveled on to Kunduz, where he expressed concerns over the increasing "professionalism" of Taliban militants.

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

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

Escalating insurgency

In Kunduz, Guttenberg also witnessed a demonstration of how armored howitzers that were recently made available to German troops can be used against insurgents.

Over the past weeks, the Taliban have stepped up attacks against international troops. In June, 102 ISAF soldiers were killed in the war-torn country, making it the deadliest month so far for the alliance in the course of the nine-year old war.

Seven German soldiers also died in April in fighting in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. The German defense minister had recently warned that more casualties were to be expected in the region this summer.

Motivating soldiers

This is Guttenberg's fourth visit to Afghanistan since he became the defense minister nine months ago. He said the aim of the current trip was to motivate the soldiers and get their views about the situation on the ground.

German soldiers are deployed in the north of Afghanistan

German soldiers are deployed in the north of Afghanistan

"A couple of months ago when I started as a defense minster I promised that I will be here probably every second month," he told a press conference. "The other purpose of the visit is to see how the situation develops in and around Kunduz and to give our soldiers a feeling that we are not only backing them, but that they have the support of the whole government and also to show the people back home what is happening here."

He stressed the decisive role the Afghans bring to the stability in the country. "The German government expects the Afghans to show their commitment," he said in Kunduz.

His visit comes ahead of an international conference planned for next week in Kabul. During the conference Afghan officials will present their long-term strategy for the development of the country.

Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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