Guttenberg addressed German troops in AfghanistanImage: AP
April 15, 2010
Four more German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. The German defense minister has returned to the country after making a brief trip to Uzbekistan.
German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg returned to Afghanistan on Thursday following the death of four German soldiers near the northern city of Baghlan.
Five more soldiers were injured in what has been called the deadliest single attack on foreign troops this year. Guttenberg returned to the region after a brief trip to Uzbekistan on Thursday.
"It is important to me to show the soldiers here that we are behind them and are supporting them," the minister told the troops.
Guttenberg flew to Afghanistan earlier this week to boost morale in the wake of three German soldiers being killed at the beginning of April in Kunduz, bringing the total of Bundeswehr deaths in Afghanistan to 39 since 2002. Eight other soldiers were wounded – four of them seriously – in a battle with the Taliban that went on for 10 hours.
More tanks for German troops
Guttenberg said Germany was dependent on their "force and strength" and promised to improve equipment. The recent Bundeswehr deaths have triggered a heated debate about whether the army is adequately equipped.
One immediate measure is the ordering of more tanks. "For example, we want to send two more armored howitzer 2000 tanks to Kunduz as soon as possible so that certain capacity gaps are closed, gaps which have arisen because of the complexity of our enemy’s approach," Guttenberg explained.
These armored howitzers can fire three rounds in nine seconds in burst mode and can provide accurate fire at a distance of 40 kilometers.
The Financial Times Deutschland reported on Thursday that the Bundeswehr had also ordered 60 more tanks from the Swiss manufacturer Mowag in a deal that is expected to be signed later this week.
Currently the German army has almost 1,000 tanks at its disposal in Afghanistan, where 4,500 troops are stationed.
The SPD opposition recently called for another mandate to be drawn up considering German troops are not officially "at war" in Afghanistan but were originally sent to help reconstruct the country and train police officers.
Party leader Sigmar Gabriel said a new mandate was necessary if Chancellor Angela Merkel was now of the opinion that there was a war going on.
However, Guttenberg said this was unnecessary: "The mandate corresponds to the realities and the head of the SPD also knows this."
The debate is not likely to subside. Moreover, there are voices in the political sphere that think more support needs to be given to traumatized soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
"It is a scandal that soldiers have to spend years dealing with bureaucratic measures and have the feeling that they are being neglected by their boss and basically the state," Reinhold Robbe, the military service ombudsman in the Bundestag, recently said.
The German mission in Afghanistan seems to be becoming increasingly unpopular among the general population. A recent poll published by the Stern weekly magazine found that 62 percent of Germans wanted the troops to be pulled out.