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Angela Merkel questions 2014 Afghanistan deadline

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a surprise visit to northern Afghanistan, has called into question plans to pull Berlin's troops out of the country in 2014, a day after a US soldier murdered 16 Afghans in the southern province of Kandahar.

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During a surprise visit to northern Afghanistan Monday, Angela Merkel said the point had not yet been reached where Germany could say, “we can pull out today.” (Pool/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called into question Berlin’s plans to pull its troops out from Afghanistan in 2014, a day after a US soldier killed 16 Afghans in a shooting rampage in the southern province of Kandahar.

During a surprise visit to northern Afghanistan Monday, Merkel said the point had not yet been reached where Germany could say, “we can pull out today,” The Daily Telegraph reported.

Speaking from the main German base at Camp Marmal, outside Mazar-e Sharif, the chancellor said: “I cannot say we will manage this by 2013-2014. The will is there, we want to succeed.”

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NATO announced in January that it was committed to withdrawing its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Germany has 4,800 troops in the country, the third-biggest contingent in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) after the US and the UK, according to the BBC.

That number is due to be reduced by 400 in 2013, with the remaining forces pulled out by the end of 2014. Merkel’s comments appeared to cast doubt over Isaf’s 2014 deadline, although a German official told Reuters: “The chancellor is not calling into question the withdrawal plan.”

In a telephone call to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai from Mazar-e Sharif Monday, Merkel expressed “her deepest condolences” over the murders of 16 Afghans, including nine children, by a US soldier on Sunday, the Agence France Presse reported.

The chancellor condemned the killings as a “dreadful deed,” and promised that Isaf would do everything in its power to uncover what had led to the killings in villages near a US military base.

On Monday the Taliban pledged retribution over the deaths, vowing in a statement on their website to “take revenge” against the “sick-minded American savages.” Last month violent protests and attacks on Isaf soldiers erupted across Afghanistan after troops burned copies of the Qur’an at NATO’s main military base in the country.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/war/afghanistan-war/120312/angela-merkel-questions-2014-pullout-deadline-during-afghan