German foreign minister in surprise Afghan visit

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday on a surprise trip to Afghanistan.

The visit came ahead of a German parliamentary vote in Berlin this month on extending the country's unpopular mission in war-torn Afghanistan by one year.

Westerwelle, arriving in Kabul following a trip to neighbouring Pakistan, held talks with Karzai, Afghan Foreign Minister Salmai Rassul and National Security Advisor Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.

He told Karzai that Germany "will continue providing support to strengthen the Afghan national security forces," according to a statement from Karzai's office.

It added that Westerwelle said his country "supports President Karzai's peace initiative with the Taliban."

Westerwelle is due to have a private dinner with figures including General David Petraeus, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, and Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, late Sunday.

He will then end his visit Monday, a German embassy spokesman said.

Germany has some 4,600 troops based mainly in the north of Afghanistan, the third-largest contingent after the United States and Britain in an international force of 140,000.

The situation in the north has worsened in recent months and 45 German troops have died in the nine-year conflict.

A German national who worked for the state-owned development bank and was working in the area died in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the de facto capital of the north, on Christmas Day.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to troops in December that Germany was at war in Afghanistan, a sensitive point in a country where the legacy of World War II still looms large.

Westerwelle told parliament in December that the German government wants to start reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan by the end of 2011 with a view to pulling out of the country completely by 2014.

International troops are likely to begin conditions-based withdrawals from Afghanistan in July before handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces in 2014.


© 2011 AFP

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