Nine hundred mourners, including friends and family and a row of officials, paid their last respects to three German soldiers killed during duty in Afghanistan. The memorial was held in a church in the town of Bad Salzungen in the state of Thuringia.
"We mourn the loss of these good soldiers," German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung of the Christian Democrat Party said at the funeral service. "It reminds us of the high price we are paying, so that we in Germany can live in peace and freedom."
But the defence minister urged society to continue its support for the mission.
"The violent death of these three young people may lead some to question the sense of our commitment in Afghanistan," the Conservative politician said.
"My answer to that question is clear: We are in Afghanistan, because our deployment there ensures the safety of citizens in Germany," he said.
Rebels attacked the three corporals on June 23rd, while they were travelling in a Fuchs armoured personnel carrier with four other soldiers near their base in Kundus. The three died when the vehicle tipped over, falling into a body of water. Two, a 21-year-old man from Thuringia and a 23-year-old man from the state of Saxony-Anhalt, belonged to the Armoured Infantry Battalion 391 stationed in Bad Salzungen, while the third soldier, a 23-year-old man from Brandenburg, was a member of the Paratrooper Battalion 263, stationed in Zweibruecken.
Growing disdain for Afghan mission
Germany has been part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan since 2002. Currently, 3,700 troops are deployed there. Since the mission began, 35 German soldiers have lost their lives in the Hindu Kush mountain range.
According to a survey published on Wednesday by the Stern weekly magazine, Germans are increasingly unhappy about their troops' mission, with 61 percent wanting them to return home. That is up slightly from a similar survey from September 2008.
But Minister Jung is adamant that the troops will stay in the region for awhile longer.
"Those who demand that we pull out of the region would be handing Afghanisation back to the Taliban," he said. "
Chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced her continued support for the German force's involvement in her parliamentary policy statement on Thursday.
"We still face huge, difficult and dangerous challenges (in Afghanistan)," Merkel said. "But I believe we have no other equitable alternative to the goal and strategy we are following with the NATO deployment and our civil commitments."
Afghanistan will be an issue in elections in September.
Editor: Chuck Penfold