The Afghanistan Debate Germany Defends Refusal to Enter Taliban Stronghold
German officials on Friday defended their refusal to send combat troops to more violent southern Afghanistan, which has been plagued by a Taliban insurgency. France, meanwhile, is meeting with Canadian officials to discuss a plan to send French troops to support operations in Kandahar.
German soldiers arrange sacks of food in Afghanistan's Balkh Province, north of Kabul. Germany'S troop presence is limited to reconstruction work in the north.
"We already have more than 20 dead to mourn from this work, so it isn't very safe," said Erler, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). "It simply is not true to say that some are doing the hard work and others are quitters."
Germany has refused to send combat troops to the violent Afghani south, as have Spain, Turkey and Italy. However, the German military, the Bundeswehr, does have almost 3,300 troops stationed in relatively stable northern Afghanistan, and its Tornado reconnaissance jets are being used to help in the battle against the Taliban-led insurgency in the south. Germany is also sending a quick reaction force to replace a deployment of combat troops that Norway is withdrawing from Afghanistan.
"It has already been accepted that we have accomplished a considerable amount," Erler said. "It's not fair to now say, 'Germany, you need to do more.'"
Leaders in Berlin, who face strong sentiment in the German public against the war in Afghanistan, have focused on the value of their reconstruction efforts in the north.
"What we are saying is that it basically makes no sense for the plan that we are implementing in ... this northern region to be broken off or called into question by sending soldiers arbitrarily into other corners of the country," said Erler.
The push back from Germany's Foreign Ministry follows more than a week of intense criticism from NATO leaders and appeals for European leaders to send more troops to Afghanistan.
At a NATO conference this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, the organization's leader, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, reiterated his plea for "more combat troops to the volatile south."
Responsibilities and Risks
"The mission demands the sharing of responsibility and risks, but we haven't arrived at that point yet," he said. NATO currently leads a coalition of troops in Afghanistan, called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), that includes 43,000 soldiers from 40 countries.
At the end of January, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent his German counterpart, Franz Josef Jung (CDU), a strongly worded letter asking the Bundeswehr to increase its deployment to Afghanistan and move troops into the south. At the Vilnius conference, he reiterated his belief that the US needs more help from its NATO allies.
"What we want is more troops without restricted deployment, and more troops that are willing to engage in combat," said Gates.
Germany has agreed to send a small deployment of additional troops, but maintained its refusal to enter the most violent sectors of war-torn Afghanistan.
France, Belgium, Poland and Romania agreed during the meeting to send additional troop units to Afghanistan.
And on Friday, France indicated that it was re-considering its previous refusal to send troops to the south in light of the NATO plea. French and Canadian leaders were meeting Friday in Paris to discuss Ottawa's appeal for 1,000 extra troops to support its beleaguered force in the volatile Kandahar province. Canada has threatened to withdraw from Afghanistan if it does not receive this additional support from its NATO allies -- and politicians in the country have been deeply critical of Germany's limited mandate in the north.
"We want to talk in more detail about the logistics of the deal, and thats exactly what's happening in Paris today," said Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay.