BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she could not be sure that troops could be withdrawn from war-torn Afghanistan by 2014 as planned, as she made a surprise trip to the country.
The point has not yet been reached where Germany can say "we can pull out today," Merkel said, according to German news agency DPA. "And therefore, I can also not say that we will manage that by 2013/2014. The will is there, we want to do that and we are working towards that," she said.
Speaking as she visited German troops stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan, she called on Kabul to push forward the political reconciliation process with armed groups like the Taliban.
Merkel's visit came at a time of high tension, a day after a US soldier ran amok in an Afghan village killing 16 people, an act the German chancellor described as "dreadful".
In a telephone call to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Merkel vowed that everything would be done to investigate what she called "the dreadful act of the US soldier."
Merkel also congratulated Karzai for progress made in building up Afghan security forces. He in turn expressed gratitude for Germany's commitment to peace in the war-wracked country.
The chancellor last visited Afghanistan in December 2010, to meet German soldiers just before Christmas. On that occasion she described the fighting there for the first time as "war".
This is her fourth trip to Afghanistan since taking office in 2005 and was planned before Sunday's massacre. It was not announced in advance for security reasons.
Germany is the third biggest supplier of troops to the 130,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after the United States and Britain.
It had 4,900 soldiers in Afghanistan as of February 1. AGENCIES