German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German troops in northern Afghanistan that their battles with insurgents are a “new experience for us.”
Ms. Merkel spoke during an unannounced visit to her country’s soldiers in northern Afghanistan, paying tribute to their service in the NATO-led force as parliament prepares to vote on renewing their mandate.
Ms. Merkel, her defense minister and the military’s chief of staff arrived early Saturday in Kunduz, where Germany has a base. She later continued to another German base at Mazar-e-Sharif, also in the north.
Ms. Merkel thanked troops in Kunduz for their “extremely dangerous” deployment.
“You are embroiled in battles of the kind one has in war,” Ms. Merkel said. “That is an entirely new experience for us.”
Until this year, German officials generally avoided using the word “war” to describe the unpopular mission.
Germany currently has nearly 4,700 troops serving in the International Security Assistance Force. It plans to start gradually withdrawing in late 2011.
Ms. Merkel’s visit comes ahead of a parliamentary vote expected in January on renewing authorization for the country’s military mission in Afghanistan.
The current parliamentary mandate allows for a maximum deployment of 5,350 German soldiers. All German deployments abroad require parliamentary approval, typically on a yearly basis, and its renewal is not expected to meet serious opposition.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Thursday that Germany is defending its own security in Afghanistan - “that is why this mission is right, but it is also right that it cannot go on forever.”
Ms. Merkel told troops on Saturday that “the population in part views this deployment skeptically, yet it is still proud of you.”
The German military said a 21-year-old soldier died on Friday night after being found with a gunshot wound at a military post in Pul-e-Khumri. It said the wound appeared to have resulted from an accident, but the matter was being investigated.
He was the 45th German soldier to die on service in Afghanistan since the mission began nine years ago.