Defence minister visits Afghanistan

Defence minister visits Afghanistan
Photo: DPA
Germany's defence minister made a surprise visit to nearly 5,000 of his country's troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday. He flew directly there in a civilian aircraft for the first time, indicating improved conditions in the region.

Minister Thomas de Maizière of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) landed in Masar-i-Scharif on Monday night, before arriving unannounced among troops on Tuesday in one of Germany’s largest bases.

Normally, such trips involve stopping over in Uzbekistan in order to swap to an armoured military plane. This was not the case on for de Maizière on Monday though as he flew straight there in a normal government plane – an act which the minister said reflected improved safety.

The aim of de Maizière’s trip, his tenth, is to develop an idea of conditions in the Hindu Kush area – where one of Germany’s largest bases is – before the country’s troops leave in 2014.

He also visited the northern Afghan outpost in the Baghlan province, where around 500 German soldiers are stationed. Just two years ago, this region was under Taliban control but power has since been regained by Afghan security forces.

In Germany though, the army was preoccupied with a military helicopter crash near the Austrian border. The cause is still unclear but both pilots were able to escape from the burning wreck of the Tiger vehicle.

This is the first crash involving a Tiger – of which there are 29 in use in Germany – in Afghanistan, where a further four were put into action in 2012, all remain grounded until the cause of the crash becomes clearer.

DAPD/The Local/jcw

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