Angela Merkel has expressed skepticism as to whether NATO troops would indeed be able to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 as planned. The German chancellor questioned the date during a surprise visit to troops there.
Political reconciliation with insurgents, such as the Taliban, had made some progress, Angela Merkel said in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday. But she added that the point had not yet been reached when one could say, "We can pull out today."
"That's why I cannot yet say that we will manage it by 2013-2014," she said of the German troops involved in the NATO-led Afghan mission. "The will is there, we want to manage it, and we are working toward it."
Merkel said the closure of the German civilian-military reconstruction team in the north-eastern town of Faisabad would be a test.
"Then the Afghan forces alone will be responsible," she said, adding that Germany would like to continue civilian reconstruction work in the area.
Merkel arrived at the Bundeswehr base in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday morning for an unannounced visit to German soldiers serving there.
The chancellor had intended to first visit the restive province of Kunduz, but bad weather stopped her from landing there. Monday's trip was her fourth to the country. Her last visit was in December 2010.
Germany's military is the third-largest contributor of troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Since the German military arrived in the country in 2002, the Bundeswehr has lost 52 troops in opposition attacks mounted against their installations, accidents or combat in the field.
There are currently some 4,800 German soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The numbers are to be reduced by the start of next year.
It is expected that the ISAF mission will have fully withdrawn from Afghan soil by the end of 2014. Then Afghan authorities are meant to take over responsibility for security matters.
ncy/slk (dpa, dapd)