German foreign minister on surprise visit to Afghanistan

July 25th, 2008 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Herat, July 25 (DPA) Surrounded by tight security, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived Friday in Afghanistan for a surprise visit. Steinmeier, who is expected to stay several days in the country, arrived in the western Afghan city in a German military plane.

It is Steinmeier’s third visit to Afghanistan.

Germany currently has 3,500 troops stationed in the war-torn country and is under pressure from NATO allies to increase its presence and move soldiers to the south of Afghanistan to help in the fight against Taliban insurgents.

Berlin announced plans to increase the number of troops by 1,000 soldiers this autumn.

The deployment of troops in Afghanistan is highly controversial in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that Germany had clear limits for its military engagement.

Speaking ahead of the visit of US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to Berlin she said there had to be a “balance between military engagement and the political expectations of the Afghan government.”

Herat, a city with 600,000 inhabitants and Afghanistan’s third largest city is regarded as the country’s cultural centre.

Steinmeier is to be briefed on rebuilding Herat’s drinking water supply system, where Germany invested more than eight million euros ($12.6 million) enabling 85 percent of Herat’s population to have access to clean water.

Several cultural projects, including the restoration of important historical buildings are also supported by Germany. Steinmeier is to visit some of the sites.

Further details of his schedule were not released due to security reasons.

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