KONDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Germany will send 120 more soldiers to northern Afghanistan to reinforce its base in Konduz Province, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has said.
Guttenberg announced the modest increase during a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where Germany has the third-largest contingent in the NATO-led mission with 4,200 troops.
"I've made the decision to reinforce Konduz with an additional infantry company from mid-January," the new defense minister said at the dust-covered field post in Konduz, where he visited a wounded soldier and ate at the mess hall.
The United States, with 67,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, has long urged Germany and other countries to send more troops. There are about 42,000 from other allied nations.
Defense Ministry spokesman Steffen Moritz told reporters in Berlin the extra infantry company would contain 120 troops.
The German parliament has limited participation in the NATO mission to a maximum of 4,500 soldiers. Opinion polls show most Germans oppose military involvement, which has cost the lives of 36 of their countrymen.
The government has resisted pressure from the United States in past years to divert its troops to more violent areas.
Guttenberg, popular because he is the first German defense minister to acknowledge the troops are in a war, is also a rarity because he is a reserve officer.
He received a warm welcome from the troops, possibly due to his support for the military. Last week he defended a German-ordered air strike that killed dozens of Taliban but also civilians, calling it necessary given the situation.
Violence in Afghanistan this year has reached the worst levels of the eight-year-old war, and militants have staged a number of attacks in the capital in recent months.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on November 13 Britain was trying to persuade its military allies fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to send 5,000 more troops.
NATO's mission to bring stability and train Afghan troops follows the 2001 U.S. invasion, in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States, to root out Al-Qaeda, which had been given a haven by the Taliban.