Germany warns against early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attends a budget session at the lower house of parliament (Bundestag) in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - A withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan could see the country falling back under the strict Islamic rule of the Taliban, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Saturday.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who also heads Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and is seen as the chancellor's most likely successor, said a pullout of foreign troops would be particularly tough for Afghan women.

"I am worried that if we were to ditch our responsibility (in Afghanistan) we will face horrifying images of women being stoned and hanged and of girls not able to attend school and married off," Kramp-Karrenbauer told a gathering of CDU women.

U.S. President Donald Trump this month canceled a planned meeting with Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat, dealing a blow to talks between his administration and the group aimed at ending the almost 18-year conflict.

The United States had said it would withdraw almost 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close five military bases under a draft agreement with the Taliban.

Trump canceled the peace talks with Taliban leaders after the insurgents said they were behind an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.

Germany has some 1,300 soldiers in Afghanistan. Their parliament-approved mandate ends in March 2020.

The United States has some 14,000 troops in the country, where the U.S. military has fought its longest ever war which started with a campaign to toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on American soil.

Trump has been putting pressure on Germany to meet a NATO-mandated military spending budget of 2% of economic output.

Merkel said last month she was taking her government's commitment to meet that goal seriously.

Under current budget plans, Germany would spend just more than 1.4% of output on defense.


(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Stephen Powell)