German leader on surprise visit to Afghanistan

Other News Materials 3 November 2007 10:46 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan Saturday for a surprise visit likely to focus on her country's contribution of 3,000 soldiers to fight the Taliban and other extremists.

The German embassy in Kabul and a European diplomat confirmed Merkel had arrived but could not immediately give details of her programme.

Journalists were called to the palace of President Hamid Karzai for a media briefing that was likely to be with the German leader.

It is Merkel's first visit to Afghanistan, where German troops are part of the 37-nation, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force helping the fledgling Afghan security forces battle an insurgency led by the Taliban.

Germany has been criticised for keeping the bulk of its forces in the relatively calm north of the country and resisting calls from its NATO allies to deploy them in the south, where the Taliban threat is most extreme.

On October 12 the German parliament signed off on an extension of Berlin's military engagement here for a year amid waning public support for the mission.

The new mandate sets a ceiling of 3,500 German troops. Berlin also has six Tornado reconnaissance planes deployed in the strife-wracked country.

The Taliban were in government between 1996 and 2001 and their insurgency has grown steadily, with more than 5,000 people killed so far this year, most of them rebels, according to a tally based on official statements.