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Bundeswehr

Merkel makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Germany's chancellor has made a surprise visit to Afghanistan. Angela Merkel and her defense minister visited troops and laid a wreath in honor of the latest German casualty.

Merkel and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere arrived in Afghanistan on Friday, visiting a memorial to the 53 German soldiers who died in the country.

The pair visited the German forces' headquarters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, before traveling by helicopter to the Bundeswehr base at Kunduz, 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the east, where they paid their respects to the fallen soldiers.

During the visit, Merkel stressed that the world would not forget Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international troops.

"We will be watching to make sure that the political process continues," said Merkel, pointing to the presidential elections of 2014 and the need to boost the local economy.

"None of this is accomplished without a little difficulty, taking a little more time than we would want," Merkel said. "However, it is essential so that the military operation does not merely come to a standstill, but that it is a real success."

Special forces soldier honored

The visit comes six days after the death of a German soldier serving as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The soldier was killed and another wounded in a clash with Taliban insurgents on Saturday.

German special forces had been supporting Afghan troops in an operation to the north of the city of Baghlan. The fatality was the first in two years for German troops working with ISAF.

At the northern Kunduz military base, Merkel and de Maiziere laid a wreath at a memorial wall, which has the names of the German soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. The wreath, in honor of Germany's latest casualty, read
only "Task Force 47, Special Forces," because special forces soldiers remain anonymous even in death.

Regarding the German soldier's death, Merkel said that such losses were always difficult to sustain.

"Every fallen soldier is a heavy blow for us," she said. "For a long time we have had no fatalities at all and, in that respect, this was also a setback. It brought it home to us that this remains a complicated situation."

Eight NATO soldiers died in Afghanistan on Saturday, the bloodiest day so far this year for international forces. The 4,300 German troops in Afghanistan are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

tm/rc (AFP, dpa)