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Germany

Militants attack German base after Merkel visit

A German military base in Afghanistan came under rocket fire shortly after an unannounced visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- her first since 2007.

Chancellor Merkel meets Bundeswehr officers in Kunduz

Chancellor Merkel's arrival in Kunduz was unannounced

Officials in Berlin confirmed that two rockets were fired at the base just 20 minutes after the chancellor and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung left by helicopter.

The missiles landed outside the perimeter fence and caused neither casualties nor damage.

Merkel's two-day itinerary is being kept secret for security reasons, but officials say it will allow her to discuss reconstruction projects and visit German soldiers deployed as part of the 60,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

After receiving a briefing on work conducted by the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz, Merkel travelled roughly 150 kilometers west to another German base at Mazar-e-Sharif.

Signs of hope?

German troops patrol Kunduz in 'Dingo' armored vehicles

Armored vehicles protect German patrols from roadside bombs

Reports from DPA news agency quoted Merkel as saying "there is hope", although she also stressed that more must be done to improve security in the region.

Recent days have seen a number of other security incidents occur in and around Kunduz.

German soldiers came under fire late on Sunday night as they secured a bridge construction site about seven kilometers from their camp.

Just hours earlier, militants attacked a German patrol with a roadside bomb.

No one was injured in the blast, but one armored vehicle was severely damaged.

New strategy

Merkel's unannounced visit comes just days after NATO leaders adopted a new strategy for Afghanistan.

At its summit in Germany and France, the alliance decided to put a greater emphasis on reconstruction alongside its fight against Taliban militants.

While US President Barack Obama called on the alliance to commit more funding and troops to Afghanistan, Merkel confirmed that Berlin would deploy an additional 600 soldiers to help secure presidential elections in August.

The decision was reached last autumn, when Germany's lower house of parliament approved a bill raising the maximum number of Bundeswehr troops that could be deployed to Afghanistan to 4,500.

Unpopular mission

Merkel, who faces an election in six months' time, had appeared reluctant to increase the number of German troops involved with NATO's Afghanistan mission, which remains highly unpopular among Germans.

She has also consistently resisted pressure from allies to send Bundeswehr soldiers to the more dangerous southern areas of the country.

But Merkel told lawmakers last month that NATO had to succeed in Afghanistan to prevent the country again becoming a base from which "terrorists" could attack alliance member countries.

"Afghanistan is NATO's biggest test at present," Merkel said.

"For me our aim remains clear, against which our success will be measured, that Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat to our security, in other words in NATO member countries."

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