Merkel assures Karzai that troops will remain ′as long as necessary′ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.01.2010
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Germany

Merkel assures Karzai that troops will remain 'as long as necessary'

Chancellor Angela Merkel holds talks with Afghan President Harmid Karzai in Berlin after the announcement that Germany's troop contingent for Afghanistan will be increased by 850.

German soldier in Afghanistan

German troop numbers in Afghanistan are set to increase

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Afghan President Harmid Karzai in Berlin on Wednesday ahead of a major conference on the Afghan situation, which begins in London on Thursday.

The meeting took place just one day after Merkel announced that a further 500 troops would be deployed to Afghanistan to join the roughly 4,300 already stationed there.

A further 350 troops would be a "flexible reserve" to be deployed when necessary, for example to provide extra security for elections.

Merkel told Karzai that international support for Afghanistan would continue as long as was necessary. Karzai responded that his country aims to "reduce the burden" on its allies as soon as possible, but that it still needed help to develop its security forces.

On Tuesday Merkel said the German troop hike - 850 additional troops in all - was part of a "completely new" approach to cooperating with the Afghan government.

"This is a much more defensive approach, for which the German Army's offensive capacities will be rearranged," she said, adding she hoped Afghanistan could assume control of its own security by 2014.

Exit strategy

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who also spoke at the news conference, said he hoped that the international conference in London on Thursday would make progress on a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"We aim to achieve the handover to Afghan forces in 2014. We want the London conference to be a turning point," Westerwelle said.

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who spoke to the media after Merkel, also stressed how important it was to help Afghanistan to rebuild.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg with German soldiers

Guttenberg wants to concentrate on training Afghan security forces

"The government's approach represents a real change of strategy in that we are actively working towards an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan," he told reporters. "So, our emphasis is now on boosting training programs and protecting civilians, we want to achieve tangible results in those areas and, of course, we will continue to help reconstruction and rebuilding efforts."

Unpopular mission

The Bundeswehr currently serves in Afghanistan under a parliamentary mandate which sets the maximum number of German troops at 4,500.

However, when another 500 troops are sent to Afghanistan, this number may still not be surpassed as many soldiers are nearing the end of their tours.

The Bundeswehr's military involvement in Afghanistan is unpopular with the majority of Germans, but Merkel and her coalition government see a continuing commitment to the NATO presence in the country central to German foreign policy.

td/ng/dpa/AFP/Reuters
Editor: Rob Turner

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