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German defense minister on a surprise visit to Afghanistan

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday night for a surprise visit. This comes in the middle of an accusation that the minister plagiarized sections of his PhD thesis.

German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

The visit was kept secret for safety reasons

Guttenberg arrived late Wednesday in the province of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan and stayed overnight with the troops at their base. It is the minister’s ninth visit to the conflict region, but the first for him to spend the night in a combat zone. Baghlan is considered to be one of the most dangerous German encampments, and five soldiers were killed there in 2010.

Guttenberg surrounded by soldiers in Afghanistan in 2010

The defense minister wants to visit the soldiers in Aghanistan every two months

Visiting the troops every two months

With his trip, Guttenberg, who has made it his goal to visit the German troops in Afghanistan every two months, wants to find out about the recent situation in the region. Germany, with its 4,800 soldiers in the country, is the third largest foreign country behind the United States and Britain. Opinion polls have indicated that the deployment is hugely unpopular among German voters. In late January, lawmakers approved a 12-month extension to the operation, on the condition that the troops start to pull back from the end of this year – if the security situation allows.

For safety reasons there is no immediate information about Guttenberg’s itinerary in Afghanistan and how long he is going to stay there, said a speaker of the German Defense Ministry. This is also why Guttenberg did not previously announce his trip. The speaker also said that the minister is only accompanied by a small delegation.

In the spotlight

Guttenberg in an inteview in India

Guttenberg rejected the plagiarism claim, calling it "absurd"

Meanwhile, back home the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) politician has been hit by a series of controversies. On February 16th, a media storm broke out surrounding Guttenberg after a German law professor accused him of plagiarizing sections of his 2006 doctoral thesis. According to the professor, some passages in Guttenberg’s thesis were almost identical to texts previously published by other authors and had not labeled as citations. Guttenberg has rejected the claims, calling them "absurd," but adding that he could not rule out that there may have been errors when it comes to quoting others. If the allegations are confirmed, Guttenberg might loose his PhD.

The minister, who took up his post in 2009, has also faced criticism over a string of controversies within the military, one of them being the accidental killing of a German soldier in Afghanistan, whose mail had illegally been opened or lost. A further issue concerns the death of a female naval cadet on board the German naval training vessel Gorch Fock. All three incidents are currently being investigated by German authorities.

Guttenberg talking to host Johannes Kerner on a stage during his visit in Afghanistan in December 2010

He was accused of turning his December trip to Afghanistan into a publicity stunt

On his previous visit to Afghanistan in mid-December, Guttenberg was also criticized for taking his wife and a television show host with him. He was accused of turning a trip to Afghanistan into a publicity stunt. The 39-year-old is considered to be a rising star in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, but is also a popular target of the German press. Guttenberg, who comes from a wealthy family, became Germany’s economy minister in February 2009 and moved to defense after Merkel’s re-election seven months later. Many believe he will run as the next German chancellor.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (Reuters, DPA, AFP)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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