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New Afghan plan poses more danger to troops

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New Afghan plan poses more danger to troops
Photo: DPA
10:28 CEST+02:00
The head of the international forces in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, has flagged continuing danger for German troops in the war-torn country, warning 2010 was shaping up as a “critical year.”

After meeting Wednesday in Berlin with Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, McChrystal praised the Bundeswehr's contribution to the ISAF mission, saying its efforts had yielded “great success” in the north of the country.

“Germany remains a very important partner in our work in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the Afghan people had to be pushed towards shaping the future of their country.

McChrystal said the new strategy he has been promoting, using partnerships between foreign and Afghan forces, was essential to moving the country forward so that the international forces could eventually hand over responsibility.

The strategy means German troops will spend more time outside bases and partner with Afghan forces more frequently – a delicate issue in the wake of the recent deaths of seven Bundeswehr soldiers.

In an interview Wednesday night with broadcaster ARD, McChrystal said progress would be made only if the Afghan people got behind the government and its security forces. In the long run this would mean fewer attacks, fewer recruiting opportunities for Taliban insurgents, and fewer suicide bombers and booby-trapped explosives.

Asked whether Germany had to prepare itself for more deaths, McChrystal said:

“In short term, first of all, you have to expect to incur certain risks for a definite period. To go out and interact with the people also means a certain risk.”

But these were temporary risks that would bring greater security in the longer term, including to German soldiers, he said.

On Thursday morning, Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to stay the course in Afghanistan despite the shock of the recent deaths. It would be “irresponsible” to withdraw Germany's commitment to the international force, she said in a statement to parliament's lower house, the Bundestag.

“It would be ... a fallacy to believe that Germany would not be in the sights of international terrorism,” she said. Afghanistan would “sink into chaos and anarchy” and the result would be “far more devastating than the result of attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Merkel paid tribute to the seven soldiers recently killed in two separate attacks – one an ambush on Good Friday, which killed three, and the other a grenade attack on an armoured car last week, killing four.

She also criticised opposition demands for a fresh mandate for Afghanistan, insisting that all MPs had known in March when they voted to continue the military mission that there would be risks.

However, she also acknowledged mistakes had been made.

“There has been progress, there have been setbacks and our goals were partly unrealistically high or they were, in part, wrong,” Merkel said.

Guttenberg, meanwhile, reiterated on Wednesday his recent forceful remarks vowing that Germany would stay in Afghanistan despite the recent troop deaths.

“We plan to keep taking responsibility for leadership, has we have taken it (in the past),” he said.

The mission was “dangerous, even very dangerous in parts,” Guttenberg said. He vowed therefore to “do everything we can, to provide the best possible protection and the best possible equipment,” to German troops.

McChrystal and Guttenberg laid wreaths together at the cenotaph for the Bundeswehr at the back of the Defence Ministry in Berlin, recognising the 43 German soldiers who have died in the conflict, including the seven killed in recent attacks.

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