Following the recent deaths of seven Bundeswehr soldiers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated the importance of the mission in Afghanistan. She said to pull out now would "encourage extremists."
Chancellor Merkel urged the Bundestag to support the mission
Chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated Germany's commitment to the war against Taliban Islamist militants in Afghanistan, saying to withdraw Bundeswehr troops from the country at this time would be "irresponsible."
Thursday's plenary session in the Bundestag opened on a somber note, as tributes were paid to the 43 German soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski who was recently killed in a plane crash.
"The soldiers gave their lives to help build a safe, democratic state in Afghanistan," the president of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert said.
This was echoed by Chancellor Merkel who used her address to reiterate the importance of the German mission in Afghanistan. She said "no one was underestimating" how dangerous this mission is for Germany's soldiers.
More than 4,000 German troops are deployed in Afghanistan
She urged the people and parliament to support the mission: "We cannot expect our soldiers to act courageously, when we lack the courage to stand up for our decision," she said.
The chancellor also said the mission conformed with both international law and the German constitution. She said to withdraw would be "irresponsible" as Afghanistan would sink into chaos and anarchy.
Security and democracy
Chancellor Merkel said the German soldiers killed in Afghanistan had paid the ultimate price trying to bring democracy and security to the country. She called on parliamentarians to support their efforts, so that "girls can go to school, the streets are safe…That's our mission in Afghanistan."
Merkel conceded that there had been mistakes and a few "backward steps" in the first years of the mission, which started in 2001. The chancellor reassured parliamentarians that German troops, who first entered Afghanistan in 2002, would not be there "permanently."
Merkel's address was met with sporadic applause from her parliamentary colleagues, although several members shouted out dissent during the speech and opposition leaders voiced concern.
Call for withdrawal
Left Party parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi repeated his party’s call for Germany to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. "Our demand for an immediate and unilateral withdrawal of German troops would prevent more casualties on all sides," said Gysi. "In view of so many German soldiers dying, we believe it's time for people to stand up and raise their voices in outrage."
The Left Party's Gregor Gysi said withdrawal should be immediate
Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel voiced concern that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had referred to a "war" situation.
"When the defense minister says that we are waging a war, does this mean that the emphasis will shift to military force instead of civil reconstruction?" asked Gabriel. "If you want this, including the possibility of more civilian casualties, then you have to seek a new mandate. We don’t want any strategy changes."
This dissent in the chamber reflects the unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan. The government has been under increasing pressure to justify efforts in Afghanistan to a skeptical German public.
In the most recent public opinion poll, 62 percent of those asked said they wanted Germany to withdraw troops from NATO's Afghanistan campaign.
In recent weeks, seven German soldiers have been killed in Taliban attacks. Three soldiers were killed on Good Friday and then a further four soldiers died in a rocket attack on April 16. Several more soldiers have been seriously wounded while patrolling the area of northern Afghanistan where Bundeswehr troops are based.
Merkel said that she wished the soldiers who've been injured in the violence a "speedy and full recovery."
Editor: Chuck Penfold