Minister: civilian Afghan flight is 'progress'
Published: 12 Nov 2012 09:48 GMT+01:00
Updated: 12 Nov 2012 09:48 GMT+01:00
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière arrived in Afghanistan for a surprise visit on Monday - travelling for the first time on a direct flight without military protection, in what he said was a sign of progress.
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De Maizière is the first German government member to fly to Afghanistan without military protection, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday, saying he flew directly from Berlin to Masar-i-Sharif in a government plane.
"This is a sign for the improved security here in the north," he said upon landing.
Until now, ministers visiting German troops in Afghanistan would fly to Termes in Uzbekistan and from there continue in an armed military plane.
De Maizière said he was there to get a picture of how Afghan police and troops were increasingly taking on responsibility for security themselves ahead of the international withdrawal of troops agreed by the US and NATO for 2014.
Just three percent of attacks by Taliban forces or other rebels take place in the northern region where the Bundeswehr is stationed. No German has been killed there for nearly 18 months, although the local people are still living in fear for their lives. Last month a suicide bomber blew up himself and more than 40 other people in a mosque in Meimane.
Germany is the third largest force in NATO's Isaf mission, with around 4,800 troops, behind the 9,500 from the UK and more than 68,000 from the US.
A report in October in Der Spiegel magazine said Berlin planned to significantly reduce its troops in the country to "comfortably under 4,000" when the government asks parliament in January for a new mandate for the force.