Von der Leyen stresses soldier safety in first visit to Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan | News | DW | 23.12.2013
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Von der Leyen stresses soldier safety in first visit to Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan

Germany’s new defense minister has used a visit to Afghanistan to stress the need to provide the troops with sufficient equipment to carry out their mission. It is Ursula von der Leyen's first major act in her new post.

Visiting Bundeswehr troops in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday, Ursula von der Leyen - Germany's first woman defense minister - pledged that under her leadership, the defense ministry would ensure that German soldiers receive the best protective equipment possible.

"The most important thing is the person and not the question of material costs," the defense minister said. "The material must be good enough to ensure that … the people who work here are well protected."

At the same time, though she noted that any new purchases must be "cost-effective."

The quality of equipment issued to Bundeswehr soldiers has been criticized by several people in recent years, although, Hellmut Königshaus, the German parliament's commissioner for the armed forces, acknowledged in his 2012 annual report that there had been some improvement.

After her arrival in Afghanistan on Sunday, von der Leyen used a speech to around 300 Bundeswehr soldiers to pledge that she was “there for them.” She said she was “proud” to be their defense minister and took the job “very seriously.”

Von der Leyen also expressed Germany's willingness to remain involved militarily in Afghanistan after the Western military alliance NATO withdraws all of its remaining combat troops from the country by the end of next year.

Germany has offered to contribute around 800 Bundeswehr trainers and advisors to a non-combat NATO mission of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops.

"A lot has been achieved here, and we want to secure that," Von der Leyen told the troops in Mazar-i-Sharif.

However, this is only expected to happen if Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs an agreement with the US, which, among other things, would shield its troops in the country from prosecution under Afghan law. So far, Karzai has refused to do so.

Von der Leyen, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, took over as defense minister from Thomas de Maiziere, when the new grand coalition cabinet, including members of the the Social Democrats, was sworn into office last Tuesday. Von der Leyen had been labor minister in Chancellor Merkel's previous coalition with the liberal Free Democrats.

pfd/ph (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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