German defense minister backs longer Afghanistan mission

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday that the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan had been carried out too quickly, making her remarks during her sixth trip to Camp Marmal in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

“I haven’t forgotten how it was at the beginning when we got out …too quickly with too big a reduction in troop numbers [in 2014],” she said, stressing that it was plain to everyone that there was still ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

“There’s still a lot to do but I’m convinced that we’re going in the right direction with our mission there,” von der Leyen added. She said that the Afghan army would still need support and training from coalition troops for some time.

“We’ll need to have a lot of stamina — Afghanistan will occupy us for a long time yet.”

German Bundeswehr troops have been in the country for 16 years in the wake of a US-led invasion in 2001 as part of Washington’s “war on terror” following the September 11 attacks. The mission is the largest Bundeswehr deployment ever, and also the one that has involved the most losses.

Currently, some 1,000 German soldiers have remained on in the country, mainly to train Afghan forces.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen speaking to German troops in northern Afghanistan

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen speaking to German troops in northern Afghanistan

Three-month mission extension

At its peak, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had about 150,000 soldiers from all over the world. Now, only about 17,000 soldiers remain, 10,000 of whom are from the US.

Washington has been pressuring Germany to send more troops as the international coalition grapples with the ever-tense security situation, but Berlin has been hesitant to do so until a new German government is formed.

Last week, the Bundestag voted to prolong country’s mission to Afghanistan by three months in order to allow a new government enough time to consider a longer extension.

Germany has been without a government for 85 days, as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have struggled to find willing coalition partners.

es/tj (dpa, Reuters)