Chancellor Angela Merkel made an unannounced visit to German troops in Afghanistan amid heightened tensions after a U.S. soldier killed 16 Afghan villagers in a rampage in the south of the country.
Merkel arrived early today and visited a base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where a portion of Germany’s 4,715 troops are stationed, the chancellery in Berlin said. Television pictures showed her in a military plane and meeting troops on the ground. A planned trip to Kunduz in the north was canceled because of inclement weather.
Merkel offered Afghan President Hamid Karzai condolences on behalf of Germany for the U.S. soldier’s act, the chancellery said on customary condition of anonymity. NATO forces will do everything possible to investigate the killings, Merkel told the Afghan leader in a phone call from the German base.
The massacre in the southern province of Kandahar threatens to raise tensions with western troops and anti-American protests weeks after a Koran-burning incident triggered violence. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to hand over security of the country to Afghan forces by 2014.
During the troop visit, Merkel said that Afghan forces aren’t yet in a position to take over and placed the 2014 deadline in question, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
“So I can’t yet say whether we’ll manage it by 2013-2014,” DPA, which has a reporter traveling with the chancellor, quoted her as saying. “The will is there; we want to do it. So we’re working on it.”
Merkel, who is on her fourth visit to Afghanistan as chancellor, told Karzai that Germany will draft a partnership agreement with Afghanistan this month that will lay out cooperation between the two countries after the current mission ends.
Merkel also took part in a memorial service for German soldiers killed during the decade-long mission. Germany’s contingent is the third-largest behind the U.S. and U.K.
President Barack Obama called Karzai “to express his shock and sadness” and pledged “to hold fully accountable anyone responsible,” according to a White House statement.
Women and children were among those killed in yesterday’s attack in the villages of Najib Yan and Alokozai in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district. The soldier walked back to his base after the killings and turned himself in, said Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the NATO-led coalition.