Mazar-e Sharif (Afghanistan): German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said Monday that he hoped German troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan at the beginning of 2012.
He stressed, however, that "this objective is only realistic if it is backed up in a sensible manner."
The minister, in Afghanistan on an announced visit, said that the fighting situation in Afghanistan was "longer and harder" than in previous winters, but that progress could be seen over the past months.
Guttenberg stressed it was important to get a clear picture of the realities on the ground, especially amid the current debate in parliament over extending Germany`s mandate in Afghanistan.
Guttenberg, who arrived Monday at a German camp in the northern province of Kunduz accompanied by his wife and the premiers of the German states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, said supporting the troops was especially important in the run-up to Christmas.