Germans back transfer of security responsibility to Afghans

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BERLIN, Jan 2 (KUNA) -- German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and prominent members of Bundestag (the federal parliament of Germany) have pressed on Saturday for starting a gradual handover of the security command in Afghanistan from NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to local authorities this year.

In an interview with the German-speaking Focus news magazine to be published in the southern city of Munich on Monday the minister said: "At the Afghanistan conference we should be working towards beginning the hand-over process for security responsibility from 2010 on." "The conference, due in London on January 28, should adopt a new strategy for Afghanistan," Westerwelle, chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), suggested.

Meanwhile, leader of the FDP parliamentarians Birgit Homburger said: "The objective we seek in Afghanistan is neither to realize full reconstruction nor to build a democracy in the Western style." "Such an objective requires keeping our forces in Afghanistan for at least 20 years," she argued.

In similar statements to the Focus, Hans Peter, MP from the FDP, urged development of a "tangible exit policy" from the Central Asian country.

On his part, member of the conservative Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) Andreas Schockenhoff called for an early pullout saying: "I don't wish to see the last German soldier leaving Afghanistan after five years." He urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to have a louder voice during the London conference on the German participation in ISAF.

Rainer Arnold, a military expert and member of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), suggested introducing radical changes to the mission of the German contingent in Afghanistan by 2013.

The changes should ensure enabling the Afghan security authorities to discharge their responsibilities effectively, he said in statements to daily Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung.

SPD's Chairman Sigmar Gabriel stated opposition to militarization of the German foreign policy.

All international efforts should focus on overhauling all aspects of the infrastructure and reconstruction in Afghanistan, he said in an interview with Der Spiegel daily.

Similarly, Wolfgang Ischinger, a security expert and former diplomat, said he believed that the security command should be handed over to the Afghans gradually during the coming two years.

With 4,500-strong contingent stationed in Afghanistan's northern areas, Germany is the third-largest troop-contributing nation to the ISAF after the United States and the United Kingdom which have 34,800 and 9,000 troops respectively. (end) KUNA 022253 Jan 10NNNN

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