Germany will not name a specific timeframe for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan as to do so would encourage militants in the war-torn country, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Wednesday.
"By the end of 2011, we want to have made enough progress to be able to reduce our own army contingent. And in 2014, we want to achieve (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai's goal of Afghans taking over security in the whole country," Westerwelle said in a speech in parliament.
He added: "That is a realistic goal that we want to work towards but it is not a concrete withdrawal date. To name a date would boost the terrorists and would therefore be a mistake."
Westerwelle was speaking as a bill to send 500 more German soldiers to Afghanistan, joining 4,300 already on the ground in the north of the country, and for 350 fresh reservists got its first reading ahead of a vote scheduled to take place by the end of February.
"We can already foresee that during the (Afghan legislative) elections in September, more forces will be needed to carry out temporary security duties," Westerwelle said.
German troops currently form the third-largest contingent in the 110,000-strong international force behind the United States and Britain, with the upper limit capped at 4,500 soldiers by parliament.
Washington is sending 30,000 more troops and its allies some 10,000.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the popular defence minister seen as a rising star in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, took the same line in an earlier interview on German radio.
"If we say that on a certain day, we would have no more German soldiers in Afghanistan, we would play right into the hands of those who are just waiting to say 'wonderful, we'll just wait until then to turn the clock back'," said the minister.