Merkel makes surprise visit to Afghanistan | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 12.03.2012
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Merkel makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made an unannounced visit to the German Bundeswehr's base in Mazar-i-Sharif one day after a US soldier went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghan civilians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan on Monday to visit the German Bundeswehr base in Mazar-i-Sharif and to remember the fallen soldiers. Her visit comes at a time when tension is extremely high.

Not long ago, furious Afghan citizens demonstrated for days in the Bundeswehr's operation area. They were protesting the burning of copies of the Koran close to Bagram Air Field, the largest US base in Afghanistan.

And on Sunday, a US soldier snapped and attacked unarmed Afghan civilians, killing 16.

Security was boosted and helicopters over the US base in Kandahar that the soldier had started out from to ensure angry residents did not storm the base.

Angela Merkel with troops in Afghanistan

Merkel's fourth visit to Afghanistan comes at a turbulent time

US condemns killing spree

James Cunningham, the US ambassador in Kabul, was quick to condemn the attack before it was known who the perpetrator was.

"We deplore any attack by a member of the US Armed Forces against innocent civillians," he said. "And denounce all violence against civilians. We assure the people of Afghanistan that the individual or individuals responsible for this terrible act will be identified and brought to justice."

President Barack Obama also apologized to President Karzai over the telephone.

New, gruesome details on the killing spree continued to surface on Sunday and Monday. It was revealed that the soldier had left the base before sunrise on Sunday morning. According to eyewitnesses, he then went from house to house and opened fire on innocent village residents. Nine children were killed.

The attacker's motives remained unclear on Monday. According to some reports, he recently had a nervous breakdown.

Playing into extremist hands

Just weeks after mass protests against the burning of copies of the Koran broke out across the country, the incident comes at a time when anti-US and anti-West sentiment is already at a peak and many fear it will strenghten extremist elements further.

Afghan protesters throw rocks towards a water canon near a US military base in Kabul

Afghans throughout the country demonstrated against the burning of the Koran for days

"This incident is going to have a negative impact. It will encourage the people to be against foreign troops and to demonstrate against their presence," one Kabul inhabitant said.

Ali Seraj, an Afghan political analyst, also warned the Taliban would use it the killing spree to their advantage.

"The way to try to calm nerves as soon as possible is to hand this person over to the Afghan government," he said. "And have him tried under Afghan law in order to be punished according to the crimes committed in Afghanistan. We're dealing with individuals in a time similar to the 15th or 16th century - they very much believe in 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.'"

The Taliban reacted promptly to the killing spree, referring to it on their website as an act of barbarity, carried out by bloodthirsty Americans.

Author: Kai Küstner / sb
Editor: Anne Thomas