Germany's new defense minister Ursula von der Leyen has met troops stationed in Senegal on the first leg of her Africa tour. Her visit follows news that Germany is extending military deployments in Afghanistan and Mali.
Von der Leyen met her Senegalese counterpart Augustin Tine late on Wednesday shortly after touching down in the capital Dakar on her first official trip to Africa.
Afterwards she addressed members of Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, stationed in Senegal in order to assist UN forces in efforts to stabilize neighboring Mali.
She told them Tine had assured her how valued their presence was in Senegal, adding that she was "proud and grateful" for their valuable and essential work."
Von der Leyen said Tine had informed her that radical Islamists had been "forced to withdraw from certain areas" of Mali.
Tine said the situation was under control and it was "clearly noticeable in Senegal that stability is returning to Mali," the defense minister told the troops.
Tine noted, however, that militants were not "disarmed" and still posed a "potential threat."
"It was quite clear we must remain vigilant. Their withdrawal does not mean that the problem has been solved," von der Leyen said.
Around 70 German soldiers are stationed in Senegal in order to provide assistance to the UN mission, MINUSMA. The German contingent provides transport aircraft to support UN forces in efforts to secure crisis-hit northern Mali.
Roughly 100 additional German soldiers based in Mali support the EU mission, EUTM, and are charged with training engineering units of the Malian army.
Bundeswehr deployments extended
The Bundeswehr's current mandate in Mali runs until June, although Germany's cabinet proposed Wednesday that it be extended until February 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet also agreed that Germany's mission in Mali could be expanded to a possible 250 military trainers instead of the previous permissible limit of 180.
Germany's role in Afghanistan was also in focus during the meeting on Wednesday. The cabinet recommended that parliament extend Germany's military deployment there until late December, the planned end of the NATO-led international combat mission.
It adopted a report on trends in Afghanistan which said the security situation in most regions was "sufficiently controllable," with the exception of eastern and southern areas.
The Bundestag parliament is due on February 21 to decide whether to mandate German military deployments, including 10 further months for Afghanistan and the plan to send extra personnel to Mali.
Von der Leyen is due to touch down in Mali's capital Bamako for the second leg of her trip on Thursday.
ccp/jm (AFP, dpa)
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