Surrounded by tight security, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Afghanistan for a surprise visit, assuring the country of Germany's continued support.
Steinmeier visited Herat in western Afghanistan
"We stand at your side," Steinmeier said after meeting with Afghan officials on Friday, July 25.
Steinmeier, who was expected to stay several days in the country, arrived Friday morning in the western city of Herat in a German military plane on his third visit to Afghanistan.
Germany currently has 3,500 troops stationed in the war-torn country and is under pressure from NATO allies to increase its presence and move soldiers to the more volatile south to help in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
Berlin announced plans to increase the number of its troops by 1,000 this autumn. The deployment in Afghanistan is controversial in Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that Germany had clear limits for its military engagement.
Speaking ahead of the visit of US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to Berlin, she said there had to be a "balance between military engagement and the political expectations of the Afghan government."
Image boost for German aid
One reason for Steinmeier's visit to Herat was to rectify the image many Germans have of Afghanistan, the foreign minister said.
Afghanistan is not only Kabul and attacks by Taliban insurgents but also successful rebuilding campaigns like the one in Herat, Steinmeier said.
Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city with 600,000 inhabitants, is regarded as the country's cultural center.
Steinmeier was briefed on rebuilding Herat's drinking water supply system, where Germany invested more than 8 million euros ($12.6 million), enabling 80 percent of Herat's population to have access to clean water.
Several cultural projects, including the restoration of important historical buildings, are also supported by Germany.
Steinmeier visited some of the sites and held discussions with business representatives and members of parliament and the local government.