Germany’s armed forces have pulled out of a strategic outpost in northern Afghanistan. The move is part of a gradual hand over of security responsibilities, which is to be completed by the end of 2014.
Bundeswehr soldiers officially handed over control of Observation Post North to Afghan troops in a ceremony on Saturday.
A press statement issued by the Bundeswehr's mission command center in Potsdam announced that about 200 German soldiers had been based at the camp, which is now to be manned by 250 of their Afghan counterparts.
From Saturday onwards, the Germans who left Observation Post North were to be stationed on the Bundeswehr's main base in Afghanistan at Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Bundeswehr had established the camp, which is located in Baghlan province, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of the larger German base at Kunduz three years ago, when attacks by Islamist Taliban insurgents were at their peak.
The Bundeswehr suffered some of its heaviest losses in Afghanistan in and around the observation post. In one incident two years ago, three German soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier, who then turned the gun on himself.
During a visit to Afghanistan back in March, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere paid tribute to the soldiers serving there, saying it was there more than anywhere else that the Bundeswehr had been tested by the Taliban.
"Here the mission changed from drilling wells to combat," de Maiziere said. "Here, the Bundeswehr really had to prove themselves, to fight and survive in combat."
Saturday's handover is part of an ongoing process in which US, German and other members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have been handing over responsibility for security in the country to Afghan troops.
Germany, which at one point had more than 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, began drawing its forces down about a year ago. The remaining almost 4,300 combat troops are to leave the country by the end of 2014 at the latest, when NATO's current mission in the country expires. After that, Germany is to contribute to a smaller noncombat NATO force, which is to focus on the training of Afghan troops.
pfd/jlw (dpa, AFP)