Support for Germany's mission in Afghanistan is falling among Germans. Politicians, however, say the troop deployment must continue in the face of a resurgent Taliban.
The German military must stay in Afghanistan until the Taliban has been defeated, the leader of the Germany's conservative Christian Democratic parliamentary party said in an interview made available Saturday.
The German mission was not just about the people in Afghanistan but also "about ourselves," Volker Kauder told Berlin-based weekly Tagesspiegel am Sonntag in a statement to be published Sunday.
Those asking for a withdrawal of German troops "seriously threaten our security," Kauder said. The Taliban were closely following current discussions in Germany and drawing new courage from them, he added.
"But if we say clearly: we'll stay until the Taliban have been defeated, it will weaken their position. The people in Afghanistan also have to be reassured that they can rely on us," Kauder said.
Support has plunged in the German population for the country's military presence in Afghanistan, where more than 3,000 German troops and other personnel are helping the NATO mission to combat the Taliban insurgents. An extension to the mandates for German forces to be in Afghanistan must be renewed parliament by Oct. 12.
An opinion poll conducted after two German engineers were taken hostage showed heightened disapproval of Germany's participation in the NATO-led mission.
Support for the country's continued military presence in Afghanistan dropped 11 percentage points to 33 percent within the last two months, according to the Infratest survey for ARD television conducted on July 30-31. The number of Germans calling for a withdrawal jumped 10 points to 64 percent, the poll of 1,000 German adults showed.
The mood has helped the new Left Party lead by politician Oskar Lafontaine, who has called for the withdrawal of all 7,700 German troops serving in foreign missions. The far-left party's position is attracting some disgruntled Social Democrats, unhappy with their party's more centrist stance.
Call for an international increase
Despite the falling public support, a former Social Democratic minister, Egon Bahr, has called for an increase of the international forces in Afghanistan from their current 40,000 to "no less than 200,000 men."
The troops should not stay for one year only, "but for five or ten years," Bahr told the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag. The German military should also send more troops, Bahr said, although exact numbers had to be decided on after a detailed NATO analysis of the situation.
Bahr was the brain behind Germany's Ostpolitik (policy aimed at improving relations with East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union) in Chancellor Willy Brandt's social-liberal government coalition during the late 1960s and early 70s.
German forces are not on the front line of combat in Afghanistan, but are based in the Kunduz province in the relatively quiet northern part of the country. Still, suicide bombers in May killed three German soldiers who were on foot patrol.
While NATO would like German troops to join Dutch, British and Canadian soldiers fighting a resurgent Taliban in the south, Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to authorize such a deployment, saying Germany is doing its part in the north.
The fate of the German engineer kidnapped in Afghanistan three and a half weeks ago, meanwhile, remained uncertain on Saturday.
"The crisis staff is working around the clock to free the German hostage," a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said in Berlin without giving any further details.
An engineer identified in German media reports as Rudolf B., 62, was abducted together with a colleague on July 18 -- one day before the group of South Koreans.
The colleague, 44-year-old Rüdiger D. from the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, was killed by his kidnappers. According to the post-mortem report, he was shot dead after collapsing from a dizzy spell.