When will we be leaving Afghanistan, Mr Westerwelle?
It would be wrong to set an exact withdrawal date at this point in time. If we did that, the terrorists would know how long they have to hold out until we’ve gone. And the vast majority of the peace-loving population would be very reluctant to cooperate with us because they would fear reprisals from their oppressors.
What kind of timeframe do you think is realistic?
Just a few weeks ago we adopted a new Afghanistan strategy with a clear prospect for withdrawal. We will focus more on civilian reconstruction and on training Afghan security forces. If possible, we want to hand over responsibility for security to the Afghans in 2013, and to begin reducing the Bundeswehr contingent in 2011.
The terrorist network al-Qaida is thought to have been almost destroyed in Afghanistan …
If we were to withdraw in haste now, the country would revert to being a safe haven for the world’s terrorists within a very short space of time. The risk of attack would then be considerably higher in Europe, too.
Isn’t that scaremongering?
We have to remember that the abominable attack in the US on September 11 wasn’t an isolated attack. There were also attacks in Madrid and London. And in Germany there were the plans of the Sauerland terrorists. The perpetrators were trained in Afghanistan. We have every reason to be grateful to the men and women of the Bundeswehr who are defending our freedom in Afghanistan.
Are German soldiers dying in Afghanistan because of inadequate equipment?
The Federal Government is doing everything it can to ensure that the best possible equipment is deployed in Afghanistan. However, I can assure you that should any new issues arise in this connection, the Federal Government and the Bundeswehr will look into them immediately.
Afghanistan’s President Karzai is moving away from NATO. Can we still trust him?
We’re cooperating well with the Afghan Government. But we expect President Karzai to stick by the goals he has set himself, such as fighting corruption. We will take him at his word. We don’t want to stay in Afghanistan for ever.
Is there a war going on in Afghanistan or what would you call this conflict?
After a thorough examination by the Federal Government, we have come to classify it as an armed conflict, which clearly describes all the risks and dangers involved. In international law, the term “war” is defined as a military conflict between states, usually with an intention to conquer. That is not taking place in Afghanistan, for we are there at the invitation of the Afghan Government, as well as at the request of both the UN and the vast majority of the Afghan population.