German Foreign Minister Visits Afghanistan After Attack | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.05.2007
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German Foreign Minister Visits Afghanistan After Attack

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited his country's troops in a northern Afghanistan town on Tuesday, where a Taliban suicide bomber killed three German soldiers over the weekend.

Germany has about 400 soldiers in Kunduz

Germany has about 400 soldiers in Kunduz

"Terror threatens us everywhere and there is no absolute protection against terrorist attacks, this we had to learn in a very painful way," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told troops at the German base in the city of Kunduz, where about 400 German soldiers are stationed.

Three German troops died and five were wounded in a powerful blast in a market area in the city on Saturday. Five Afghan civilians were also killed in the attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

It was the deadliest incident involving German troops since four were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul in 2003.

While the Kunduz province is considered relatively stable compared to southern and eastern provinces, Steinmeier said there were no safe zones in the conflict against the resurgent Taliban.

Reconstruction to continue

Afghanistan Deutschland Bundeswehr Soldat in Kunduz

Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan since 2002

The minister noted the extensive reconstruction that had taken place in Kunduz, where German engineering teams have worked since late 2003, and said the Taliban aimed to undo the progress in Afghanistan with their attacks.

"We cannot allow this to happen," said Steinmeier, who was due to travel to Kabul during his two-day trip for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the ISAF leadership.

He was also scheduled to fly from Afghanistan to Pakistan on Wednesday for talks with President Pervez Musharraf and other government officials.

Germany has around 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, operating largely in the north of the country, as part of NATO's 37-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Twenty-one Germans have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002, including the soldiers killed on Saturday.

No change in mission

Anschlag auf Bundeswehrsoldaten in Kunduz

Defense Minister Jung says soldiers will stay

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung has said the attack would not dent his country's commitment to Afghanistan. "Nothing will change with the mission," he added.

A radical Islamic group currently holding two German civilians hostage in Iraq has threatened to execute them unless Germany pulls its troops out of Afghanistan, where it is the third-largest force after the United States and Britain.

Despite the recent attack against the Germans, ISAF troops have handed Taliban fighters considerable losses, Ernst Uhrlau, head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency, said on Tuesday.

"I don't see that the Taliban is gaining the upper hand in Afghanistan," he said in an interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Aid agencies alter strategies

Meanwhile, German aid agencies have said they were changing their own strategies in Afghanistan. The Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action, DWHH) said it wanted to distance itself from the Kabul government and from coalition forces.

The organization's head, Hans-Joachim Preusss, said aid agencies had been given tasks that actually fall under the auspices of the government, making the organizations more vulnerable to attacks by government opposition groups.

Anschlag auf Bundeswehrsoldaten in Afghanistan

Afghan police officers at Kunduz bombing site

He also said DWHH would now more clearly emphasize its humanitarian, neutral role, and would focus more on the needs of the Afghan people, rather than trying to fulfill government-defined priorities.

DWHH has been active in Afghanistan since 1980. It has 19 staff there, 13 of whom are German. Employees strive to improve drinking water facilities and irrigation systems, as well as to secure food supplies.

Several of its workers have been targets of attacks in the past few months.

Caritas International, a Catholic umbrella organization for over 160 development and relief agencies, also said its neutrality is essential in Afghanistan.

"It could be dangerous for us if development work were confused with military or peacekeeping missions," a Caritas spokesperson said.

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