Germany wants to extend Afghanistan mission by one year: newspaper

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government wants to extend its deployment in Afghanistan for one year initially, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited high-ranking NATO sources as saying. Although NATO has withdrawn almost all of its combat troops, it still has soldiers stationed in the country to train local forces. Up to about 850 German troops are in Afghanistan on this mission. NATO had planned to withdraw all forces by the end of next year. "At the meeting of the NATO defense ministers in the coming week in Brussels, Berlin will suggest extending the mandate for the Afghanistan deployment by one year," the newspaper cited a NATO source as saying. "Germany does not want to put what has already been achieved in Afghanistan on the line. The final withdrawal, which is planned for 2016, is premature given the Taliban attacks," the source added. Taliban fighters on Monday battled their way into the center of Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan, and seized the provincial governor's office in one of the militant group's biggest territorial gains in 14 years. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said defense ministers would talk about Afghanistan at their meeting but it was not solely up to the defense minister to decide, adding that the foreign minister also has a role to play and it would also require negotiations in the German government. He said talks in the German government on the issue had begun but no decision had been made and Berlin would continue to make decisions in consultation with its allies. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this week that she was open to delaying the withdrawal of German soldiers beyond next year after the Taliban seized Kunduz. Von der Leyen will suggest at the NATO defense ministers' meeting that all 28 NATO states say they are prepared to extend the mission, the newspaper cited NATO sources as saying. (Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Toby Chopra)