German foreign minister: expectations for Afghanistan lower, troop pullout to start next year

Germany's foreign minister played down the country's expectations for Afghanistan's future Thursday while reiterating that German troops will start their withdrawal by the end of next year as planned.

After nearly a decade in Afghanistan, Guido Westerwelle told parliament, Germany now has "more realistic expectations" for the country.

"Good governance remains an important benchmark, but if we are more realistic then good-enough governance — which we can reach in the foreseeable future in Afghanistan — is satisfactorily good," Westerwelle said.

Germany currently has some 4,600 troops in Afghanistan, responsible for a large swath of the country's north including the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz, and helped command the International Security Assistance Force in 2003.

German troops will now start withdrawing as planned in late 2011 after beginning to hand over responsibility to Afghan authorities by the middle of next year, Westerwelle said.

"In Afghanistan, we are defending our own security. That is why this mission is right, but it is also right that it cannot go on forever," he added.

Westerwelle's statement was based on a 100-page progress report issued earlier this week assessing achievements and failures of Germany's engagement in Afghanistan since it first sent troops in December 2001.

Westerwelle reiterated the government's position that the Afghan conflict cannot be solved by military means alone, and that negotiations with insurgent groups are necessary.

Still, he said, insurgents must commit themselves to respecting Afghanistan's constitution, renounce violence and cut their ties with international terrorist leaders.

Germany's parliament has to renew authorization for the country's commitment of troops to the Afghan war in January but it is not expected to meet serious opposition. Currently parliament has approved a maximum deployment of 5,350 German soldiers to Afghanistan.

Westerwelle said the last of Germany's troops are to leave by 2014, adding that the withdrawal must not endanger allied troops or leave the country in the hands of the Taliban.

Source: AP News

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