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Germany’s Merkel resists calls to deploy troops to south Afghanistan

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by Waheedullah Massoud
November 3, 2007

KABUL (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday Germany would continue to focus its military efforts on northern Afghanistan, despite calls for its forces to move into the insurgency-hit south.

Germany is, however, ready to help out in the south if necessary, where other countries are under pressure, Merkel said during a surprise one-day visit.

It is her first trip to Afghanistan, where Germany has 3,000 troops in the international effort to fight extremists such as the Taliban.

“Germany has taken over responsibility in the north of Afghanistan and I think the most important (thing) is to pursue the efforts we have begun,” Merkel told reporters after talks with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The country is also contributing Tornado planes to carry out reconnaissance work in Afghanistan, she said.

And “whenever troops will need help in the south, we will of course provide help for the south,” Merkel said, without making it clear what degree of assistance she meant.

“But I strongly believe that we should stick to our concept that has been worked out in order not to weaken our forces in the north,” she said.

Germany has been criticised for keeping the bulk of its forces in the north while countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States face some of the most intense fighting in decades in the south.

Southern Afghanistan sees the worst of an insurgency led by the hardline Taliban movement that was driven from government in late 2001 for harbouring Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Violence has grown in the north but the area is free from the daily violence gripping the south and east.

Merkel said it was vital that Afghan security forces are trained so they are able to take control of the country’s security.

“If there is a single aspect we should emphasise more right now, I think it would be to build up the police forces,” she said.

The understrength and ill-trained police force is on the frontline of the insurgency, suffering the most attacks of all the security forces.

Taliban militants were in the past week able to force out the police in two districts in the west of the country. Karzai said operations were being planned to retake the districts in Farah province.

Germany’s role in Afghanistan is controversial at home, with a survey last month finding that only 29 percent of Germans supported the mission here.

The German parliament nonetheless last month extended Berlin’s military engagement in Afghanistan for a year, passing a new mandate that sets a ceiling of 3,500 troops.

Most of Germany’s troops are part of the 37-nation, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) but it also has about 200 with a separate US-led coalition.

While in Kabul, Merkel also met with the UN special representative, Tom Koenigs, and the commander of ISAF, General Dan McNeill.

She then travelled to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where she met some of the 1,400 German troops based there and was again questioned by Afghan journalists about whether her soldiers would be sent south.

“We don’t have any plans to do this,” she said.

The insurgency has grown in strength year on year, despite the presence of more than 50,000 international troops under NATO or US command, with military officials reporting increasing numbers of foreign fighters on the battlefield, including from Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

Around 5,000 people have been killed so far this year, most of them rebels, according to a tally based on official statements.

More than 190 foreign soldiers have also lost their lives this year. A Dutch soldier was killed in a bomb strike in the south on Saturday, while a coalition force soldier, whose nationality has not been released, and an Afghan trooper were killed in the same area on Friday.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 4, 2007 at 2:03 am

Posted in Security

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