Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told parliament on Thursday that Germany plans to start pulling its forces out of Afghanistan at the end of 2011. All German troops should be out of the country by the end of 2014.
There are currently 4,600 German soliders in Afghanistan
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has announced that German troops will start withdrawing from Afghanistan in a year's time.
"At the end of 2011 we'll be able to start reducing our Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan," Westerwelle told the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag on Thursday.
The minister went further than a progress report on Germany's mission in Afghanistan, which said the withdrawal might not begin until the start of 2012.
Westerwelle also told the Bundestag that the mission in Afghanistan was about defending Germany's security.
"That is why this deployment is the right thing to do. But it must not go on without end, and that is also the right thing," he said.
Report shows work needs doing
Westerwelle said the Afghan mission could not go on indefinitely
The statement was based on the 108-page progress report issued earlier this week in which Berlin assessed what had been achieved in the nine years since it first sent soldiers to Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from returning to power.
The government is seeking a fresh authorization from parliament in January for the deployment, which has a limit of about 5,000 personnel. The commitment to start reducing the overall number in late 2011 is aimed at winning over public skepticism in Germany about the mission.
As far as the current situation in Afghanistan is concerned, Westerwelle said there was "light, but there are still too many shadows." He said, however, that there was reason to believe that the international community would reach its goals in Afghanistan.
According to the progress report, there has to be a longer-term military and civil engagement in Afghanistan on the part of international forces.
Gernot Erler of the opposition Social Democrats praised the timing of the report. He said that members of the Bundestag "definitely" needed better information in order to make the difficult decision in January.
However, Erler criticized the fact that the report did not contain a critical assessment of German activities in Afghanistan. He cited the danger of corruption in the north of the country.
Defense minister more vague about timing
In comparison to Westerwelle, the German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has been reluctant to name a date for the withdrawal of German troops.
Zu Guttenberg visited soldiers in Afghanistan earlier this week
"I'm not the kind of person who says 'next year we're going to withdraw soldiers here or there,'" zu Guttenberg told the German news website Spiegel Online on Monday. "That would be irresponsible."
Zu Guttenberg added there were no concrete plans for the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr in the north of Afghanistan.
By contrast, his cabinet colleague Guido Westerwelle was more specific on Thursday. He told the Bundestag that deployments in the north of Afghanistan would be among the first regions to be handed over to Afghan command in the first half of 2011.
NATO decided in Lisbon last month to end the military mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if the security situation allows for it. Westerwelle confirmed that he expected that there would be no more German troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold