By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 19, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates welcomed new German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to the Pentagon today. Guttenberg was appointed as Germany's defense minister Oct. 28, replacing Franz Josef Jung. After meeting with Guttenberg in the Pentagon, Gates told reporters that he and his German counterpart "agreed to consult on a frequent basis on common challenges we face as close allies, particularly in Afghanistan."
Germany, which has more than 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, is the second-largest contributor to Afghan National Police training, Gates said. Germany also is the third-largest troop contributor to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Gates added, and the fourth-largest provider of civilian-development assistance.
Gates said he congratulated Guttenberg for Germany's continued leadership and steadfast response to increased violence in northern Afghanistan. Guttenberg recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan.
Gates said he and Guttenberg welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel's initiative with British and French counterparts to convene an international conference on Afghanistan in January.
Other common issues, such as the new NATO strategic concept, Iran, and advancing nuclear nonproliferation, also were part of today's discussion, Gates said.
The German government yesterday approved a one-year extension of Germany's troop deployment to Afghanistan, according to news reports. Guttenberg said he told Gates today that Germany's commitment regarding Afghanistan "is firm."
Guttenberg said he and Gates also discussed the need for NATO to continue as an instrument for international security.
The German defense minister thanked Gates for welcoming him to Washington, noting he would meet the U.S. defense secretary again tomorrow at a security conference held in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Asked by a reporter if Germany would boost the number of its forces in Afghanistan, Guttenberg replied that his country would maintain the current number of about 4,500 troops.
Guttenberg said his government is awaiting President Barack Obama's decision regarding the way ahead in Afghanistan. Germany, too, is concerned, he said, about allegations of corruption within Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's government.
Karzai, who was elected to a second five-year term, today pledged to address the corruption issue at his inauguration ceremony in Kabul.
"We will see what will be the result of it," Guttenberg said of Karzai's vow to attack corruption. "We need more than just words; we need action also in Afghanistan, by the Afghan government."
Meanwhile, Guttenberg said, Germany is awaiting developments regarding potential change in U.S. strategic policy in Afghanistan, the Afghan's government's resolve to fight corruption, and the outcome of the international conference on Afghanistan in January.
Germany "will certainly reassess its mandate" regarding its troop presence in Afghanistan and make decisions after the conference, Guttenberg said.
"We can use all the help we can get," said Gates, noting 43 countries contribute troops to the mission in Afghanistan. However, he cautioned against speculation about potential troop plus-ups by other nations engaged in Afghanistan.
Until Obama announces his decisions regarding Afghanistan, Gates said, any guesswork about other nations' troop contributions "is probably premature."
Guttenberg said he believes that Germany is an equal partner among the coalition nations engaged in Afghanistan. "Togetherness is the basis for any success in Afghanistan," he said.