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German military deaths in Kunduz to revive debate over Afghan war

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Berlin, Mar 3, IRNA -- A heated political debate over Germany's military mission in Afghanistan is expected to be rekindled after three German soldiers were killed and five seriously injured on Friday in a clash with Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan.

The soldiers were reportedly on a mine clearing operation near the town of Kunduz when they were attacked by dozens of Taliban fighters.

German political leaders have been quick to condemn the rebel assault as Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced dismay at what she labeled "a despicable and perfidious attack on our soldiers in Afghanistan."

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who broke off his holiday in South Africa after being informed of the killings and returned to Germany, expressed "deep sadness" over the incident.

He stressed however there would be no plans for an early military withdrawal from war-stricken country.

The latest attack has brought the number of German military personnel killed in operations in Afghanistan since 2001 to 39 soldiers and is to revive new public discussions over the purpose of Berlin's military operations in Afghanistan.

Most Germans strongly oppose their country's mission in Afghanistan as Germany has also been the scene of numerous anti-Afghan war protests in recent years.

This weekend's traditional Easter peace marches across Germany are also expected to draw attention to the country's controversial military campaign in Afghanistan ahead of next month's key regional elections in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The German press also questioned the purpose of sending German troops to Afghanistan, reiterating the center-right government lacked a clear political and military strategy for the country.

The Cottbus-based daily Lausitzer Rundschau said in an editorial Berlin had yet to provide a "clear answer" as to why German soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan.

The Nordkurier newspaper called for a swift withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan amid the deteriorating security situation in the country.

"Politicians sent German soldiers to Afghanistan. It's now their damned duty ... to get them out of there," the daily said.

The public sentiment was also echoed again by Germany's Protestant leader only hours before the Kunduz attack.

Nikolaus Schneider, the acting head of Germany's Protestant church warned that the conflict in Afghanistan had "gone out of control."

He added the NATO-led military operation in Afghanistan risked losing its legitimation.

Schneider urged Germany not to become a long-term occupying force in Afghanistan.

Berlin has currently around 4,500 soldiers based in Afghanistan, making it the third largest provider to the western security mission, after the United States and Britain.

Germany's political elite is well aware that a surge in the number of deaths not only among German soldiers but also Afghan civilians would increase pressure on them to speed up plans for a rapid pullout from Afghanistan.

The latest killing of the German soldiers is also surely to put the spotlight again on parliamentary hearings on last year's German-ordered NATO bombing massacre of Afghan civilians in Kunduz.

German opposition parties want Merkel to appear before an inquiry into last September's lethal airstrike in northern Afghanistan.

Much of the parliamentary probe is focused on who knew what about the bombing and whether knowledge of civilian casualties was kept quiet by the chancellery ahead of last September's national elections.

The incident triggered a political storm in Germany, leading to the resignation of former minister of defense, Franz Josef Jung, and Gemany's top soldier, Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

The main dilemma which the Merkel government continues to face is as follows: What if the security situation does not stabilize in Afghanistan and what if German troops have to remain in the country for an indefinite time. Would the German public support that or would they revolt at the ballot boxes?

OT**1771

End News / IRNA / News Code 1032674



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