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Germany

Merkel Calls Afghanistan NATO's "Biggest Test"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said success in Afghanistan is critical for the future of NATO, ahead of a historic summit for the transatlantic alliance. That would mean rethinking strategy altogether, she said.

Chancellor Merkel addressed the Bundestag

Merkel says the aim is to stop security threats

"Afghanistan is NATO's biggest test at present," Merkel told the German parliament on Thursday, March 26, just over a week before Germany and France co-host a historic NATO summit marking the 60th anniversary of the military and strategic alliance.

"For me our aim remains clear ... that Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat to our security, in other words in NATO member countries," Merkel said.

Success in Afghanistan and elsewhere will require a rethinking of NATO's strategic concept, she said.

'Revolutionary' approach

That means incorporating the "basic principle of networked security" -- combining military action with efforts to stabilize those countries threatening the alliance, and strengthening ties with nongovernmental organizations, the African Union, and the United Nations.

"This may sound simple, but is comparatively revolutionary," the chancellor said.

A German soldier on watch in Afghanistan

Germany currently has some 3,500 troops in Afghanistan

"We should remember that Afghanistan ... was the base for the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was possible because there was no functioning state, and that was the reason for our engagement in Afghanistan," she said.

Unpopular mission

About 3,500 German troops are in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Despite being based in the relatively peaceful north, 31 German troops have died in Afghanistan since 2002, including 14 during attacks.

Next week's summit will be US President Barack Obama's first visit to Europe since taking office in January. While he is expected to press NATO allies for further support in Afghanistan, Merkel emphasized that Germany would not increase its troop levels. "We can be satisfied with our performance," said the chancellor, who faces re-election in September.

The Afghanistan mission is Germany's first major operation since the end of World War II. It was and remains unpopular. Merkel is up for re-election.

A Forsa opinion survey released this week found that 58 percent of Germans want their troops to come home while only 36 percent are in favor of a continued German presence there.

Plans for conference

The 26 member states attending the summit are also expected to discuss NATO's eastward expansion and its relationship with Russia. Trust between the Kremlin and the alliance "must be solidified," the chancellor said. The chancellor and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are scheduled to meet in Berlin next week.

Merkel also highlighted the role NATO had played in the reconstruction of Germany after World War II. "Germany has a lot to thank NATO and the allies for," she said.

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