Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprise visit on Friday to northern Afghanistan to visit her troops less than two weeks after insurgents killed a German special forces soldier and wounded a second, a military spokesman said.
Germany is the only NATO nation that is committed to leaving troops in Afghanistan after the coalition completes its scheduled pullout of combat forces next year. The U.S. is likely to deploy several thousand troops if the Afghan government provides them legal protection.
Ms. Merkel flew to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after sunrise on Friday. She was expected to stay only a few hours, said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Marco Schmidl. He declined to give further details, citing security concerns. She was travelling with German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
On May 4, insurgents firing rockets killed a German soldier and wounded a second in northern Baghlan province. It was the first death of a German special forces soldier in Afghanistan. Considered to be the military’s elite forces, the German special forces soldiers are similar to the U.S. Navy SEALS. They were accompanying an Afghan-led military operation at the time. Since 2002, 35 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.
With more than 4,000 troops deployed in northern Afghanistan, Germany is the third-largest international troop contributor in Afghanistan. Germany has pledged to leave 800 soldiers in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission closes at the end of 2014.
The U.S. is expected to keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan as a residual force after 2014, but no final decision has been made.
Germany’s troops would stay until 2017 to provide training, advice and support for Afghanistan’s security forces. They would be stationed in the capital, Kabul, and in Mazar-e-Sharif. After 2017 Germany has said it would be prepared to contribute 200 to 300 troops.
The final decision on Germany’s post-2014 deployment will be made by the next German government following September elections. Polls show Ms. Merkel is likely to win a third four-year term. While largely unpopular among Germans, the Afghanistan mission is supported by Germany’s mainstream political parties.
Germany’s offer of troops also requires an invitation from the Afghan government.
At a ceremony in the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday, President Hamid Karzai said he wanted each of NATO’s 28 members to negotiate directly with his government about how many soldiers it wants to keep in Afghanistan, where they will be deployed and how the contingents would benefit the country.
Protracted negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan over conditions for American troops after 2014 have so far not produced an accord. The U.S. insists on immunity from local prosecution as a condition.
Lt. Col. Schmidl said there were no plans for Ms. Merkel to meet with Mr. Karzai or talk to the Afghan president on the phone.
“It is only a visit of our troops,” he said in a telephone interview.