Merkel also said the United States had decided to withdraw from Afghanistan partly because of domestic political reasons, sources in her party told AFP.
At a meeting with her CDU-CSU party leadership, Merkel said NATO’s decision to pull out after almost two decades of deployment was “ultimately made by the Americans”, and that “domestic political reasons” were partly to blame.
“We have always said, if the Americans stay, we will also stay,” she said, according to participants at the meeting.
“The troop withdrawal sparked a domino effect” that culminated in the Taliban sweeping back into power, said Merkel.
“For the many who have built on the progress and freedom – especially women – these are bitter events,” she said.
Efforts must now be focused on evacuating German nationals as well as Afghans who had worked with the Germans or who are in danger from the Taliban, she said.
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Berlin estimates that 2,500 local employees who worked with German troops or at the embassy, as well as their family members, need to be evacuated from the country.
Another 2,000 Afghans, such as human rights activists or employees of non-governmental organisations, also need to be brought out of the country.
The number swells to 10,000 if their family members are included.
Beyond these groups, many others will seek to leave Afghanistan, said Merkel.
“We must do everything we can to help neighbouring countries to support the refugees,” she said, according to the sources.
The German government is deploying ‘several hundred soldiers’ to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of German nationals and Afghans in danger from the Taliban.
“An ‘air bridge’ is to be set up from Kabul, to allow the evacuation of local staff, particularly vulnerable women, human rights activists and other employees from non-governmental organisations, for as long as that is possible,” said a source.
Consultations with the United States suggest it may be possible to run the evacuation operation until August 31st, but the German government may end the deployment earlier, said the sources.
Germany had already begun ferrying out staff from its embassy on Sunday, after moving them to safety at a military section of Kabul airport.
The first German military aircraft left on Sunday night for the Afghan capital to help with the evacuation.
“We are not going to risk our people falling into the hands of the Taliban,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild at the weekend.
The army is flying passengers to an unnamed “neighbouring country”, where they will then be put on civilian flights bound for Germany, the minister said.
A core team of the embassy will carry on operating from the airport where they are currently sheltering, to help in particular with the evacuations.
“We are doing everything now to enable our nationals and our former local employees to leave the country in the coming days,” Maas said.
But he warned the situation is “difficult to predict” and said Germany was working in close cooperation with allies.
Germany had withdrawn its last troops by the end of June after almost two decades in the country as part of a NATO mission.
The 150,000 people sent by Germany at various points over the years made it the second biggest contributor of NATO troops there, after the United States.
Critics of Merkel’s government had however said it had failed to get Afghans who worked for the German military out of the country quickly enough.