Merkel says no timeline on Afghanistan

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Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that German troops would stay in Afghanistan until their goals were achieved, dismissing the possibility of setting a timeline for withdrawal.

In an interview with ZDF television being aired tonight, provided in advance to the AP, Merkel said she could not commit to bringing the troops home in a specific timeframe.

She said she wanted them home "as soon as possible" but not until the mission was complete.

"We have a goal, and that is self-sustaining security for Afghanistan," she said.

She would not speculate on when that goal might be reached.

According to the latest figures, Germany has 4,050 soldiers in the NATO-led stabilization force. They are involved primarily in training police and military forces, as well as civil infrastructure projects.

The troops, first sent in 2002, serve in Afghanistan's relatively calm north rather than the volatile south, but even so have regularly been the targets of attacks.

Merkel's comments came after Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - who is the Social Democrat's candidate hoping to unseat her in September elections - was quoted as saying he favored a "concrete roadmap" for troop withdrawal.

He told Der Spiegel magazine, according to an advance copy of an article to be published Monday, that if he became chancellor he would "work with the new Afghan government for a clear perspective on the length and the end of the military engagement."

Still, Steinmeier also made clear that he also shared the goal of bringing the engagement to a "successful end."

"The goal is to hand over full control of the country as soon as possible to a democratically elected government," he was quoted as saying.

He also ruled out setting an exit date, saying that would encourage the Taliban simply to lie low until international troops went home.