German president visits troops in Afghanistan

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German President Horst Koehler met German troops in northern Afghanistan on Friday on his first visit to the country, the defence ministry said.

Koehler and his wife Eva Luise flew into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif at about midday Friday to start their visit, the ministry said.

Germany has around 4,500 troops in the International Security Assistance Force helping the Afghan government to tackle a Taliban-led insurgency and build its own defence forces.

The contingent is the third largest after those of the United States and Britain. Most of Germany's troops are based in the north, which sees less unrest than southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Koehler was elected to the largely symbolic role of president in 2004 and again in 2009.

Germany's parliament approved in February an extension of the Afghan mission, which is deeply unpopular with the German public, and the deployment of an extra 850 soldiers.

Berlin wants to begin bringing its soldiers home in 2011, an aim shared by Washington, but has not fixed a date for withdrawal.

© 2010 AFP

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