Germany's cabinet has cemented plans to reduce Bundeswehr troop numbers in Afghanistan by the beginning of 2014 in line with NATO plans.
The troop reduction agreed to by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday would be implemented over 13 months starting in January.
By February, 2014, the number of German troops in Afghanistan is to be reduced to a maximum of 3,300.
The current ceiling is 4,900, with about 4,600 German troops actually serving.
The cabinet's plan is still subject to federal parliamentary approval in Berlin.
By the end of 2014, all German combat troops are expected to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in accordance with the end of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. Germany supplies the third-highest number of troops behind the US and Britain.
"The end of the combat mission in Afghanistan is within reach," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday in Berlin.
A government report of progress in Afghanistan was also released on Wednesday, which is part of the annual parliamentary review of Germany's presence in Afghanistan and includes an extension of the mandate.
The report said that one of the main concerns was how to establish long-term stability in Afghanistan. This could only be achieved, it said, if there was reconciliation among opposing factions in Afghanistan, namely Taliban militants and government forces.
Westerwelle said the way forward was "difficult," and added that in addition to continuing to increase stability in the nation, issues of human rights, corruption, and improved government leadership were also important considerations.
Even after the last combat troops are withdrawn, however, troops from Germany and other NATO nations are expected to stay in Afghanistan in supporting roles. The progress report stated that Germany was prepared to participate in a "consulting, training, and support mission," which is not meant to be a "combat mission."
In an interview published Wednesday in the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper, the head of the German Federal Armed Forces Association said it was unrealistic to believe combat troops would not be needed beyond 2014.
"To only be active in a supporting role and letting the Afghan security forces go it alone in battles with militants won't work," the paper quoted Ulrich Kirsch as saying.
Kirsch's association represents around 210,000 members, including conscripts, reservists, active and former servicemen and -women, and their families.
mz/ipj (AFP, dpa, dapd)
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