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German chief of staff predicts long military presence in Afghanistan

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Berlin, Feb 16, IRNA -- The Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) Volker Wieker predicted a long military presence in Afghanistan amid the deteriorating security situation in that country, the daily Welt said Tuesday.

Germany's top soldier warned against setting a fixed withdrawal date for NATO-led German troops from Afghanistan.

Wieker stressed that the planned gradual pullout of soldiers from Afghanistan can only be possible if there was "progress in the civilian reconstruction" of the war-ravaged country.

He acknowledged that not all western goals in Afghanistan could be achieved on time.

Wieker took over recently for Wolfgang Schneiderhan, who was relieved of command in the aftermath of a devastating German-ordered NATO air strike in Afghanistan last September, which killed and injured up to 142 Afghans, many of whom believed to have been civilians.

Last week, the German government approved plans to boost its troop size in
Afghanistan from 4,500 to 5,350.

The decision of the center-right cabinet is expected to be authorized by the German parliament next week.

As part of the new Afghan mandate, around 500 of those troops are to be dispatched directly to join the 4,500-strong German military force contingent, deployed mostly in northern Afghanistan and Kabul as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

In addition, some 350 soldiers would be maintained as a "flexible reserve", to be used to provide extra security in political events like the parliamentary election, scheduled for fall.

Meanwhile, Berlin hopes to start cutting troop levels in Afghanistan next year.

"In 2011 we will begin drawing down our own contingent," German Foreign
Minister Guido Westerwelle was quoted saying.

The objective is to provide a "clear perspective for a withdrawal of German soldiers" in Afghanistan, he added.

The process of turning over security responsibility to the Afghan government should begin this year, according to Westerwelle.

The minister said the next four years should pave the way for reducing the number of German soldier in Afghanistan.

The Afghan people should be in full security control of their country by 2014, he said.

The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced major public demands for a
swift withdrawal of German military forces from Afghanistan.

OT**1416

End News / IRNA / News Code 963117



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