Germany to start Afghanistan pull-out in 2011: minister
Germany will start reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan by the end of next year with a view to pulling out of the country completely by 2014, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday.
Westerwelle told parliament he was now "confident enough to say that by the end of 2011, we will for the first time reduce our contingent in Afghanistan", sticking to a goal outlined by NATO leaders in November.
"In 2014, we are aiming to hand over responsibility for security fully to the Afghans. At that point, there should be no more German troops" in the war-torn country, said Westerwelle to prolonged applause.
Germany has around 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, the third-largest contingent in the NATO-led force, and polls show the mission is unpopular in the country. Forty-four German soldiers have died.
The transfer of security to Afghan authorities must be done "carefully, sustainably and irreversibly," the minister stressed.
"If the Taliban are able to return a day after international troops withdraw, this helps no one, not the Afghans and not our own security."
Westerwelle said there was a "mixed picture" in Afghanistan "with some light but too much darkness."
At a crunch summit in Lisbon last month, the nations of the NATO-led force agreed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to begin putting the battlefield under his control in early 2011, moving Western troops to a support role by 2014.
© 2010 AFP