German minister in Afghanistan mum on pullout date

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, where he was due to meet President Hamid Karzai amongst others, Berlin said.

According to comments made on his arrival in Kabul airport released by the foreign ministry, Westerwelle declined to say when Germany's 5,400 troops based in northern Afghanistan would begin to come home.

"It would not be very clever to say where and in which month which troop contingent will be reduced. That would be an invitation to begin violence in that area," he said.

"What matters is that we will reduce troop numbers for the first time since the mission began, with the clear aim of having no combat soldiers there in 2014," he said in a separate interview in Afghanistan with the Die Welt daily.

Germany forms the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Afghanistan, with some 5,400 soldiers in the north under NATO command. An international conference on Afghanistan is due to take place in Bonn, Germany in December.

Westerwelle also warned that Afghanistan would continue to have problems after all foreign troops have left.

"I never had any illusions about being able to create a Switzerland in central Asia," Die Welt quoted him as saying.

The German parliament approved a 12-month extension of the unpopular Afghanistan mission in January, but with the proviso for the first time that troops start coming home from the end of 2011 if security allows.

© 2011 AFP

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