11 Dec 2009 08:56:59 GMT
BERLIN, Dec 11 (Reuters) – German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said the conflict in Afghanistan could not be won by military means and called for more development aid, before flying to visit troops there on Friday. His comments come as Germany considers whether to send more troops to the troubled country.
Germany already has about 4,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent in the NATO mission and the United States wants Berlin and its other allies to send up to 7,000 more troops.
Last week U.S. President Barack Obama announced he planned to send an additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan to stem violence that has reached its deadliest levels since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001. “Afghanistan will not be won with military means,” Guttenberg told German broadcaster ZDF. He said NATO forces needed to find a “sensible way” to withdraw from Afghanistan, rather than rushing it. He declined to comment on whether Germany would meet an appeal by the United States to boost its troop levels in Afghanistan.
Guttenberg said the military was still necessary to protect civilian helpers and to train Afghan security forces. “Soldiers are also risking their lives so that development aid can take place,” he said. Germany’s decision on troop levels has been clouded by a controversial German-ordered air strike in Afghanistan in September which Kabul says killed 30 civilians and 69 Taliban. In a separate interview, Guttenberg told broadcaster ARD he wanted to speak with German soldiers about the airstrike, the victims of which Berlin intends to compensate. Revelations about the Sept. 4 attack on two tankers in Kunduz triggered a row over a cover-up, and forced the resignation of then Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Matthew Jones)