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Germany

German minister visits Afghanistan amid troop withdrawal debate

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has arrived in Afghanistan on a surprise trip after visiting Pakistan. Berlin is reportedly planning to withdraw troops by the end of the year.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle

Westerwelle was forced to endure a long bus ride in Pakistan after fog canceled flights

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Kabul on Sunday where he is to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He's expected to discuss political reforms and security challenges. The visit comes amid reports in Germany that the country plans to withdraw its troops by the end of the year.

Earlier, Westerwelle met Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad at the end of a two-day visit to the country.

On Saturday, Westerwelle lauded Islamabad's role in combating militancy and underlined a need for closer cooperation between the nuclear-armed state and Afghanistan.

Westerwelle said Pakistan, home to 170 million people, played a "key role" in the stabilization of the entire region.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi indicated that his country was interested in military hardware from Germany to help combat extremism.

"It's in everyone's interest when our capabilities in fighting terrorism are improved," Qureshi said.

When asked by a Pakistani journalist whether Germany would provide weapons in the state's fight against the Taliban, Westerwelle said cautiously that German law was highly restrictive on weapons exports. He however agreed to push for loosening EU trade restrictions on Pakistan.

Westerwelle on cell phone at airport

Westerwelle with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Westerwelle's meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani was intially scheduled for Saturday, but it was postponed because of a weather-related reroute of his plane. The minister was forced to make a long bus trip from Lahore to Islamabad after all flights to the Pakistani capital were canceled due to fog.

Pullout from Afghanistan

Westerwelle's visit to Afghanistan comes as Berlin prepares to extend its troop deployment in the country while simultaneously planning its withdrawal.

Ahead of his trip at a meeting of his Free Democratic Party (FDP) on Thursday, Westerwelle said he was optimistic that the pullout could begin by the end of the year.

"The government is confident it will be able to reduce the presence of German troops from the end of 2011, during the handover of responsibility for security," he said.

A plan for withdrawal, drafted by defense and foreign ministry officials, is set to be agreed upon by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet in the next week before being sent for approval to Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, on January 28.

No set dates yet

German news magazine Focus reported on Saturday that the motion - which would contain no exact dates related to the withdrawal - was drafted with the aim of winning support from the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).

A German armored vehicle, with troops

Germany has around 4,800 troops stationed in Afghanistan

The SPD is making its support for the extension conditional on an end to all combat missions by 2014, according to German news agency dpa. The agency reported that the SPD leadership, which also wants the handing over of security responsibilities to Afghan forces to begin within weeks, will make a decision on the matter on Tuesday.

Germany is the third-largest troop contributor to NATO's Afghanistan operation, with some 4,800 service personnel based mostly in the north of the country.

Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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