On a surprise visit to Afghanistan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that circumstances in the war-torn country may not be appropriate for a troop pullout by 2014, as envisioned by NATO.
I cannot say we will manage this by 2013-2014. The will is there, we want to succeed, she said in the town of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Germany currently has some 4,900 troops on duty in Afghanistan, third in size behind the United States and Britain, according to reports.
Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that German polls have consistently shown that the Afghan mission is unpopular at home – 52 German soldiers have died in the conflict thus far.
Under existing withdrawal plans, the number of German soldiers in the country is expected to be scaled back by 500 by next year, and then to zero by 2014.
Indeed, NATO said it seeks to withdraw all of its 130,000 combat troops in Afghanistan by that time.
Merkel also condemned the murder of 16 civilians, including nine children, in Kandahar by an American staff sergeant over the weekend as a dreadful deed and expressed her condolences to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
She reportedly promised Karzai that NATO would do its utmost to investigate the killings and punish the culprits.
[Merkel] expressed condolences on behalf of herself and the people of Germany to the president over the killing of the innocent people in Kandahar, Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman told AFP.
She also congratulated the Afghan president on improvements in the security situation in the country, but cautioned further advances must still be made, particularly with respect to making peace with insurgents.
The unannounced visit was Merkel’s first since December 2010 and fourth overall. Her office stated that the journey was scheduled prior to the massacre of civilians in Kandahar.