Afghanistan Mission: Germany's Steinmeier Calls for Withdrawal Plan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's challenger in the federal election, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, says it's time to think about a timeframe for withdrawing the country's troops from Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr has been deployed since 2002.

Chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the center-left Social Democratic Party says that, if his party wins Germany's federal election, he wants to negotiate a "concrete schedule" for the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan. Steinmeier, who is Germany's foreign minister, told SPIEGEL that, "as chancellor I would push for us to develop plans with the new Afghan government to establish a clear perspective for the duration and end of the military engagement."

Steinmeier said he would push that agenda during negotiations over the extension of the Afghan Compact. The international aid treaty expires in 2010. Steinmeier said he would like to see more concrete targets for incrementally transferring responsibilities to the Afghan police and army. Steinmeier said his policy mirrored US President Barack Obama's goal of completing the mission in Afghanistan as fast and successfully as possible. "We also need to do that," Steinmeier told SPIEGEL. "The goal is to again transfer full control of the country to a democratically elected government as soon as possible."

However, Steinmeier added that it would be "irresponsible" to set an absolute date for a withdrawal because it would only serve to encourage the Taliban to bide their time until then.

He also criticized Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union for saying the Bundeswehr may have to stay in Afghanistan for another five to 10 years. The CDU should cease its "questionable wrangling" over the timetable for a withdrawal, Steinmeier said. A former CDU defense minister, Volker Rühe, recently argued in a SPIEGEL interview that a withdrawal should start in two years' time.

Steinmeier also called on Jung to strengthen the deployment of Bundeswehr military police who are providing training to Afghan security forces.

German Bundeswehr troops were deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 as part of NATO's international security force. Germany currently has over 4,000 troops stationed in northern Afghanistan.

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Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants a timetable for withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan but says it would be "irresponsible" to set an absolute date. Zoom
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Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants a timetable for withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan but says it would be "irresponsible" to set an absolute date.


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