German Defense Minister Peter Struck has wrapped up a visit to the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, saying the country still isn't "stable" and has ruled out helping the Afghans fight the drug trade.
Tanks are a common sight on streets in Afghanistan.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck met with around 200 German soldiers in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday, part of the Bundeswehr’s provincial reconstruction team (PRT).
It marked the first time that the defense chief visited the recently deployed troops since the German Bundestag agreed the controversial expansion of the Bundeswehr’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mandate outside Kabul in October.
The German PRT, which first arrived in Kunduz last October and are under a NATO mandate, are meant to ensure a secure atmosphere for the Afghan government as well as international civil reconstruction workers and aid workers in the province.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
Struck’s (photo) visit on Saturday focused on reviewing how the soldiers are coping and how cooperation is progressing between the troops, reconstruction workers and members of local and international aid organizations.
"Highly motivated soldiers"
The German troops face there face problems unique to their location and mandate. Kunduz dominates a vast and remote part of Afghanistan, a long way from any rapid assistance.
Also, with a deployment area the size of German states Hessen and Bavaria put together, the operation finds itself spread over a gigantic area littered with bandits, warlords and resurgent Taliban fighters.
Kunduz in northern Afghanistan
Despite the hazards, the Germans have been welcomed and first contacts with the local population have been cordial and have gone without any major hitches.
After a stroll through the camp on Saturday, Struck said he was happy about the "highly motivated" soldiers.
"Up to now, the experiences of our soldiers in Kunduz have been positive ones," Struck said in a statement earlier. "They have not been a target of hatred and have not faced resistance from the population there and we hope that this will remain so."
Struck also met with representatives of Afghan authorities and German aid organizations active in the region.
Struck warns of increased violence
The German defense minister has not ruled out the possibility of increased violence in the run-up to the Afghan elections, slated for the middle of the year.
With thousands of U.S. and British troops still engaged in active service against remnants of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters across the country in operations under the "Enduring Freedom" banner, there is a fear that the Germans in Kunduz cannot rely on Afghans distinguishing between the war on terror and reconstruction.
Prior to his visit, Struck said in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that he feared a resurgence of suicide attacks. "The situation has become more unstable in Afghanistan," he said. "There’s a rising danger due to the upcoming elections this year. That calls for increased alertness and more troop presence," Struck said. "The Taliban will try to disrupt the democratization process."
No German help in fight against Afghan drug trade
drug trade in Afghanistan
Struck also met with the local army commander in Kunduz, General Mohammed Daud, during his visit. Prior to Struck’s visit, Daud had urged in an interview with German daily Financial Times Deutschland that German troops were also needed to combat the cultivation and sale of opiates such as heroin.
“Drugs are the biggest problem here but the Germans haven’t done anything,” Khan said, describing narcotics as “more dangerous than the Taliban,” Afghanistan’s ousted fundamentalist regime. “German soldiers must destroy the opium factories, arrest the dealers and smugglers and reclaim the land where the poppies are cultivated.”
But Struck has said his troops would not help in the war against drug crime. "That is not our job. Our job is to promote civil reconstruction in the province Kunduz and its three neighboring provinces," he said.