Steinmeier: Security situation in Afghanistan worse

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday that violence in Afghanistan had worsened over the past year, and promised more support from Germany for the building and reform of the Afghan police and military, dpa reported.

Aggression in the south of the country by Taliban insurgents has increased, Steinmeier said in a logistics school for the Afghan army, built by Germany in Kabul. The training of soldiers and police in Afghanistan must therefore be strengthened, he said.

"The international community and Germany are standing steadfastly on your side," said the German minister, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai the previous night.

In addition to the logistics aid, Steinmeier promised 6 million euros (9.4 million dollars) for 2008 to help prepare for the Afghan presidential elections, saying the elections were important for the long-term stability of the country.

Karzai thanked Steinmeier for continued German support, saying " Germany was a good friend of Afghanistan."

Steinmeier also expressed concern about Pakistan and the impact of that country's domestic situation on Afghanistan.

Only with a cooperative relationship with all of Afghanistan's neighbours was it possible to improve the security situation in the war-torn country.

Mark Laity, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spokesman in Afghanistan, confirmed Steinmeier's impression that security was worse.

"We are currently in the middle of the fighting season," he said, pointing out that between 40 to 50 violent incidents of varying intensity were being registered in Afghanistan daily. These ranged from single shots at NATO-led forces convoys to attacks with heavy explosives. Some 90 per cent of these incidents happen in the south and east of the country.

By comparison, in the relatively calm north, where the German troops are stationed, between one and two incidents are recorded each week. "Seventy per cent of all incidents occur in 10 per cent of the Afghan districts," said Laity.

Laity also criticized Pakistan, saying that insurgents come into Afghanistan through a nearly "open" border from Pakistan.

Some 200 Afghan soldiers are currently being trained at the logistics centre in Kabul. The courses include vehicle and supply maintenance and driving lessons.

With 3,500 troops in the Afghanistan, Germany is the third-largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. Berlin plans to increase the number to 4,500 this autumn.

Steinmeier, who had arrived earlier in the day on a surprise visit expected to last several days, met with the head of the European police mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL), German Brigadier-General Juergen Scholz, late Friday.

The EU wants to double the number of EUPOL instructors and advisors from 200 to 400. This would further strengthen EUPOL's influence, Scholz said. In all, the mission is on the right path, he said, pointing out that EUPOL was the only European organization active in the entire country.

Scholz however added that the Afghan police still had a long way to go before it would be able to carry out its duties independently. Its 75,000 to 85,000 officers suffer from a negative image with the general population. And a street policeman earns an estimated 100 US dollars a month, he said.

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