Minister: Germany committed to Afghan mission

AP News
Posted: Nov 12, 2009 6:41 AM

Germany's defense minister said Wednesday that his country was committed to its mission in Afghanistan, where it has more than 4,000 troops, but that President Hamid Karzai's new administration must outline a clear plan for the future.

Karzai won his presidential re-election campaign by default earlier this month, after his main challenger pulled out of a runoff vote claiming it would not be free or fair. Karzai, whose inauguration is set for Nov. 19, has come under intense international pressure to ensure his new government cracks down on rampant corruption.

Germany's Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the latest in a series of foreign ministers and world leaders who have publicly pressured Karzai, hedging financial and military support on his willingness to battle corruption and tackle reforms.

"We are committed to our mission here, but we need to know what the Afghan government plans as the next step and how they want to succeed in that," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

Germany's mission in Afghanistan is not popular at home, but the government has not come under significant pressure to pull out. All the main political parties, including most of the opposition, support keeping German troops in the country.

"We need to see results, and that is not only in the interest of the Afghan government but as well for the international community," the minister said before heading into a meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country.

Guttenberg is accompanied on his visit by Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the general inspector of the German army.

Asked about the German mission in Afghanistan, Guttenberg acknowledged that progress had not been made in every area German troops are based.

"In some areas over the past year we were successful, in others there is stagnation," he said.

Most German troops are stationed in the northern province of Kunduz, a formerly relatively peaceful area that has seen an increase in Taliban activity in recent months. A total of 36 German soldiers have been killed so far in the mission to Afghanistan.

Speaking later after meeting Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Guttenberg said Germany was likely to extend the mandate of his country's contingent in Afghanistan. German missions run for between 12 and 18 months before coming up for renewed parliamentary approval, and the current mission's mandate expires in December.

"As it looks like right now, it will be a prolongation of the existing mandate, and any possible further commitment has to be linked to results," the minister said.

The results, he added, "have to be linked as well to further steps we need to see from the Afghan government."

Wardak insisted that attention should be focused on building up Afghanistan's own security forces so international troops can leave. Recruiting and training a competent army and police force has been a cornerstone of U.S. and NATO policy in Afghanistan, but the forces are still viewed as being far from being able to provide reliable security for the country.

"The only sustainable way to secure Afghanistan is to enable the Afghans themselves," Wardak said. "So now it will depend on the international community to help us accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces, both in quality and quantity, and provide them with the enablers which will be able to conduct independent operations."

Wardak said he hoped that over the next four or five years, the foreign troops "will transform into a mentoring and supporting role and ... the situation will allow a gradual withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.