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Afghanistan

German Defense Minister de Maiziere visits troops in Afghanistan

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere is in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to soldiers. It is his 10th visit to the country in the two years he has been defense minister .

De Maiziere headed to the International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command North base at Mazar-i-Sharif, since February commanded by German Brigadier General Jörg Vollmer. Over the weekend, de Maiziere had announced that he wanted to prepare a plan for the German withdrawal from Afghanistan, where the country has 4,350 soldiers.

Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, had recently voted to lower the mandate limit from 5,350 soldiers to 3,300 beginning in February of 2014. By the end of that year, German soldiers will only be used for training and consulting purposes in Afghanistan.

This is de Maiziere's 10th trip to Afghanistan since he assumed the role of defense minister almost exactly two years ago, enough to know the lay of the land and the work Germany has done in that country's north.

"In the north, the situation is clearly better than in the east and in the south," he said last year.

mkg/rg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)