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Germany

New German Envoy to Afghanistan Plans First Visit to Region

The new German special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bernd Muetzelburg, is expected in Washington for initial discussions ahead of his first trip to the crisis region next week.

a German ISAF soldiers walks along during a patrol on the outskirts of Kabul,

Germany currently has some 3,500 soldiers in Afghanistan

The former ambassador to India, who was appointed on Monday as a special Foreign Ministry envoy, will meet his US counterpart Richard Holbrooke to discuss international strategy issues, the German Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

During his trip to the US he also plans to visit the UN headquarters in New York.

Following these meetings, Muetzelburg is expected to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan next week, to learn for himself about the situation on the ground.

Germany has the third largest troop deployment under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Germany to send more soldiers

A US soldier talking on a radio after a suicide attack in Kabul

A bomb attack hit the German embassy in Kabul in January

In addition to the 3,500 troops stationed in the region, NATO diplomats announced on Monday that Berlin was to send another 600 troops to Afghanistan, to provide additional safety ahead of the August presidential elections.

The election in August will be a key test for Afghan President Harmid Karzai, who has become increasingly unpopular in the country due to widespread corruption. Once a darling of the west, Karzai has also watched his support weaken there.

His central government is seen as weak and he has been unsuccessful in countering a growing Taliban insurgency or curbing opium production.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is expected to present Berlin's plans for the deployment during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow on Thursday.

US leading the way

President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday he had signed orders to send the 17,000 additional troops as part of his initial plan to expand the US presence in Afghanistan to counter a resurgent Taliban, which has used sanctuary regions in Pakistan to carry out attacks against coalition and Afghan forces.

Bernd Mützelburg

Muetzelburg is Germany's first special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan

The extra troops will be operational by this summer, the top commander of US and NATO forces in the country said on Wednesday.

But General David McKiernan also told reporters that despite the buildup, the destabilizing and violent situation in Afghanistan is unlikely to be quickly reversed.

"I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year," McKiernan told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that he expects fighting to increase in the summer.

Fighting in southern Afghanistan, where it has been the heaviest, has produced a stalemate and it remains crucial to get soldiers in unprotected areas, McKiernan said.

"We need additional, persistent security presence in areas that we're not at today," McKiernan said. "And then, in turn, the intent is that that would allow governance and other programs that will enable the population to resist an insurgency in the future."

The 17,000 troop increase will widen the US presence to more than 50,000.

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