Germany's first female defence minister visited troops in Afghanistan and appealed for President Hamid Karzai to sign a deal allowing some foreign forces to stay in the country after 2014.

Ursula von der Leyen, who was appointed to the position last week, made an unannounced two-day trip to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif and visited German troops there on Sunday,

"It's important to us that we have a secure legal framework," von der Leyen said. "Therefore we hope that the bilateral agreement between the US and Afghanistan is soon signed by Karzai.

"The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission is coming to an end, but an enormous amount has been achieved here and we want to protect that." 

The US and other coalition members are pushing Karzai, who is due to stand down in April elections, to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), enabling several thousand troops to remain in Afghanistan, train the local security forces and target remnants of al-Qaeda.

The Afghan president first endorsed the deal, which lays out rules for US troops, and would be the basis for other NATO forces. But he later said it might only be signed after the election.

NATO's combat mission is due to end by December 2014, 13 years after the Taliban regime was ousted from power.

About 3,000 German troops are deployed in the northern region of Afghanistan.

Germany has offered to keep hundreds of soldiers in the country after 2014, without giving precise numbers.

Leyen said that she was pleased to meet the soldiers before Christmas and pledged that they could rely on her support.

If no BSA deal is signed, many observers fear a collapse of the still fragile Afghan forces and a resurgence of the Taliban.

Source: Agencies