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Merkel on Afghan trip questions 2014 German pullout

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called into question Berlin's planned pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 as she visited the war-torn country a day after a US soldier massacred 16 civilians.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2012 00:55 IST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called into question Berlin's planned pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 as she visited the war-torn country a day after a US soldier massacred 16 civilians.

In a phone call to President Hamid Karzai from the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, Merkel expressed "her deepest condolences" over the killings of the civilians in the southern province of Kandahar, Karzai's spokesman said.

The point has not yet been reached where Germany can say "we can pull out today", Merkel said as she visited troops stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan.

"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, according to German news agency DPA.

NATO said in January it was committed to withdrawing its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when Afghan forces are scheduled to take full responsibility for national security.

Germany is the third biggest contributor to NATO's 130,000-strong, US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after the United States and Britain.

It had 4,900 soldiers in Afghanistan as of February 1, but a further 500 are set to be withdrawn by 2013 before a complete pullout.

Opinion polls have shown that the German mission, the first major Bundeswehr deployment outside of Europe since World War II, has been consistently unpopular in the country.

Tensions were running high in Afghanistan as Merkel arrived following a US soldier's massacre of 16 villagers, including women and children, in their homes in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar before dawn on Sunday.