Ursula von der Leyen is in the midst of an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. The German defense minister's visit is her third since taking office and comes two weeks before the NATO combat mission ends.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to meet with German troops.
Von der Leyen landed Saturday morning at Camp Marmal near Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest Bundeswehr base outside of Germany. She spoke in favor of a gradual transition and against an "abrupt end" of the deployment of international troops in the war-torn country.
On the flight to the camp, von der Leyen called the situation in Afghanistan "fragile" and said that the Taliban would try to further destabilize the country by attacking civil and security facilities - especially as NATO winds down its 13-year combat mission.
"It is deeply impressive how bravely this country is fighting," said von der Leyen, who is making her third trip to Afghanistan since taking office last year.
Roughly 1,200 German soldiers currently remain stationed in Afghanistan. When the combat mission officially ends in just over two weeks, about 850 German troops are expected to remain in the country as part of the training and advisory mission Resolute Support.
The Bundeswehr will now "retire to the second row," von der Leyen said.
About 12,000 troops - mainly from the US - will remain in Afghanistan into 2015. US President Barack Obama has given approval for the US troops to aggressively go after Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in addition to training and advising Afghan security forces.
Combat missions for German soldiers, however, are not planned.
Violence continues to plague Afghanistan. On Thursday, a suicide attack in a Kabul school killed a German aid worker.
The last few months have seen an uptick in attacks after newly-elected President Ashraf Ghani concluded a security deal with the United States providing for American troops to remain in the country.
bw/cmk (dpa, AFP)