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Afghan security

January 2, 2010

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle says Afghan forces should start taking responsibility for security in their country this year. The comment comes ahead of a key Afghanistan conference in London.

Afghan forces being trained by German police in Kabul
Westerwelle wants Afghans to take a stronger security role in 2010Image: AP

In an interview with Germany's Focus news magazine, Westerwelle said he wanted NATO troops to hand over security command to Afghan forces in 2010.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle
Westerwelle wants a speedy transfer of security in AfghanistanImage: AP

The minister said the handover of security should be addressed at a meeting to be held in London later in January to discuss NATO's further strategy in Afghanistan.

"At the Afghanistan conference in London we should work on starting the process of transferring responsibility for security in Afghanistan from 2010," Westerwelle told the magazine.

He added that the handover should begin on a regional level, saying that the process would offer an "exit strategy" for German troops.

Broad political approach in Afghanistan

With up to 4,500 troops in the north of Afghanistan, Germany has the third-largest NATO contingent in the country. However, the German government has so far resisted calls to commit troops to augment US President Barack Obama's plan to send an additional 30,000 soldiers.

According to recent opinion polls, up to three quarters of the German population are opposed to the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces' involvement in the Afghan conflict.

Westerwelle, who heads the Free Democratic Party – junior partners to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc – has insisted that a comprehensive political approach must be at the core of NATO's strategy in Afghanistan, rather than merely sending more troops.

German troops in Afghanistan
Support for Germany's involvement in Afghanistan is flounderingImage: AP
Westerwelle has drawn criticism in the last week for threatening to boycott the London conference if it focuses exclusively on troop numbers. He insists the meeting must also discuss civilian reconstruction work.

"Some people think it is good foreign policy to say yes to whatever is suggested by other governments. My request is that we form our own opinion and then develop a strategy together with our allies," Westerwelle told Focus.

Merkel reaffirms commitment to Afghanistan

In her traditional New Year's eve address Chancellor Merkel had stressed that Afghanistan would remain a priority for her government in 2010.

However, she also acknowledged the role of German soldiers and civilians in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, admitting the need for an eventual transfer of responsibility.

"Politically, we must and we will create the conditions to hand responsibility to the Afghan people in the coming years, step by step," Merkel said in her speech on Thursday.

"This is the purpose of the Afghanistan conference at the end of January in London," she added.


Editor: Sonia Phalnikar