On an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle acknowledged the challenges facing the country. On the same day, an insider attack claimed the lives of three US soldiers.
Guido Westerwelle's meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday was the first by a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in the past 12 months. Westerwelle met Karzai in the capital, Kabul, where he said the near-future in Afghanistan was not without significant challenges.
"The situation in Afghanistan remains unchanged and is very difficult," he said following the talks with Karzai. "Further setbacks are unfortunately going to have to be expected."
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is set to turn over all security duties to Afghan forces in 2014, with the handover already under way. Despite security challenges that appear to have no end in sight, Westerwelle said sticking to the time table was the right move.
"It's necessary that the withdrawal of our troops goes forward as planned," Westerwelle said.
His comments came as three NATO troops in Afghanistan were killed in what appears to be the latest "insider attack." The attacks are characterized by men wearing Afghan military uniforms turning on the NATO troops, who often work side by side with Afghan forces.
Germany has just over 4,200 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Westerwelle also called on the government of Afghanistan to implement further reform, such as fighting corruption, building up the rule of law, and settling scores in internal politics. Germany remains committed to Afghanistan as it looks to the period beyond the withdrawal of the NATO troops, Westerwelle said.
"We won't forget Afghanistan."
In April, 2014, Afghans will go to the polls and elect a new president. Karzai is not allowed to run for another term. He has been the effective leader since the Taliban was toppled in 2001. Referring to the elections, Westerwelle called for a free and fair poll.
Later on Saturday, Westerwelle travelled to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
mz/msh (dpa, AFP)