Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier today (9 February) visited Afghanistan to assure the country of Germany’s continued support even after the changes coming up there in 2014. He stressed that the Afghan side would have to put in place the necessary conditions: for example, it was vital that Afghanistan sign the bilateral security agreement soon.
2014 is a crucial year for Afghanistan. A new President will be elected in April, and the Afghan security forces are getting ready to assume complete responsibility for the country’s security by the end of the year.
During his first trip to Afghanistan in his second term in office, Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised to the Afghan side that Germany was prepared to continue its engagement beyond 2014. Following a meeting with Foreign Minister Zarar Osmani he said:
Afghanistan is a sovereign state and wants to take its future into its own hands. (...) Germany will support Afghanistan on its way to a future of its own choosing.
Another item on the agenda was the signing of the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States.
During his meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that it was necessary to sign the agreement soon, saying:
For us it is vital that the bilateral security agreement be signed soon. This is important for the planning process and also in order to persuade the German public and parliament of the rightness of the operation.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier also urged those he spoke with to continue the fight against corruption and the drug trade. The country’s future also required an intra-Afghan reconciliation process “including the Taliban”, Steinmeier said.
2014 - A crucial year for Afghanistan
Speaking in Mazar-e-Sharif in the morning, Germany’s Foreign Minister had already emphasised that this was a crucial year for Afghanistan. It was also, he went on, a turning-point for international and therefore also German engagement in the Central Asian country.
We will feel an obligation to help as far as we can to secure everything that has been started here in the last 12 years or so. When we look back, we can say that we’re not where we saw ourselves over 12 years ago; we haven’t achieved everything we wanted to, but we should not underestimate what has in fact been achieved.
For instance, the Minister said, Afghanistan was no longer regarded as “a training camp for Islamist terrorists”. Many children – including girls – were now able to attend school regularly again; there was basic health care and agricultural products were again being cultivated for the people to eat. Steinmeier said 2014 was a turning-point because it was a matter of consolidating these successes.
The international ISAF combat troops are due to have withdrawn completely from Afghanistan by 31 December 2014. Security responsibility will gradually be handed over to Afghan security forces up until that date. Already the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are responsible for around 80 percent of the population of Afghanistan. The current German Government progress report points to positive developments in the transfer of security responsibility, while at the same time highlighting the still difficult security situation in Afghanistan.
Training of Afghan National Security Forces
The international community intends to continue to assist the Afghan security forces after 2014 by providing training, advice and support within the framework of NATO’s Resolute Support mission. Germany too is prepared to shoulder responsibility and to provide between 600 and 800 soldiers for the advisory and training mission for an initial period of two years. This mission needs to be approved by the German Bundestag.
But the right conditions need to be in place in Afghanistan as well: among other things, the Afghan Government must issue a formal invitation and a status of forces agreement must be concluded between NATO and Afghanistan. A bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States recommended by the Loya Jirga has not as yet been signed by President Karzai. This security agreement is, however, a precondition for US participation in the NATO mission and thus for the realisation of the mission at all.
Germany not only provides the third-largest troop contingent in Afghanistan, but is also the third-largest donor for civilian reconstruction in the country. Through its civilian engagement, Germany is supporting local reconstruction efforts by state and non-state entities. The creation of sustainable structures is a particular focus. In northern Afghanistan, for example, Germany is supporting the building of hospitals, health centres, schools, roads and police stations. German police advisers are helping to rebuild the Afghan police force. The German Consulate-General in Mazar-e-Sharif, which opened in June 2013, plays a key role in coordinating our support.