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Merkel pays surprise visit to German troops


Latest update : 2009-04-06

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan on Monday to visit German troops, a government spokesman said. She reiterated that NATO could not afford to allow terror networks to gain a foothold in the country.

AFP - Chancellor Angela Merkel visited German troops stationed in northern Afghanistan on Monday, days after a NATO summit recommitted the alliance to helping the country fight a Taliban-led insurgency.

Merkel was accompanied by German Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan told AFP.

"She will be with German troops in different places," the spokesman said.

The official could not give details of her movements for security reasons but said she was not expected to travel to Kabul.

German soldiers are in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and adjoining Kunduz. Northern Afghanistan sees less of the near daily violence of the south, but there have been several attacks on troops.

Merkel's visit, her second to Afghanistan since November 2007, follows two attacks on German forces near the northern city of Kunduz on Sunday. No one was hurt, the army said. The insurgent Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the strikes.

On Monday, two rockets were fired at a Kunduz reconstruction team but caused no damage, the German military said.

Germany has around 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, one of 42 nations forming the nearly 60,000-strong ISAF. The German parliament voted last year to increase this to 4,500.

The visit comes on the heels of a NATO summit hosted by France and Germany last weekend at which US President Barack Obama praised the alliance for committing up to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama singled out commitments from France and Germany as proof of their "seriousness of purpose".

During the summit, Merkel described Afghanistan as "NATO's biggest test at present."

Germany would "continue to make its contribution by supplying troops, by training Afghan police and by taking part in the reconstruction" of the country, she pledged.

She also reiterated that NATO could not afford to allow terror networks to gain a foothold in the country.

"We should remember that Afghanistan... was the base for the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was possible because there was no functioning state," she told the German parliament on March 26.

Germany's part in the Afghan conflict is the country's first major overseas military operation since World War II and is highly unpopular at home.

A recent poll by the Forsa institute showed that 58 percent of Germans want the government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, where 31 German soliders have been killed in the country since 2002.

Merkel called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday for talks on bilateral ties and to raise concerns about a new law covering the Shiite minority that critics say oppresses women, the president's office said.

Karzai has ordered a review of the law, which he signed last month but has yet to be published, amid claims that it bans women from working or receiving an education without the permission of their husbands.

The government confirmed Monday that the law was not in force and reiterated it would be altered if a review found it contradicted women's rights.


Date created : 2009-04-06