AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 38/2009

The End of Innocence in Afghanistan: 'The German Air Strike Has Changed Everything'

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 6: A Successful Canadian Model

Militarily, this war is unwinnable. The strategy based on the belief that if enough insurgents are killed, the enemy would be crushed and forced into withdrawing, has proven itself to be unsuccessful. The flow of insurgents is endless, and every new death produces dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of new enemies -- brothers, sons and cousins who want revenge.

But withdrawal is currently not an option. The country would fall into chaos, and the ambitions of neighbors such as Iran and Pakistan loom large. There is a real risk of a terrorist state being created. Specifying a concrete withdrawal date also doesn't help. In that case, the population would only begin preparing itself for the time afterwards -- the new era of the Taliban. All cooperation with ISAF would end immediately.

Incumbent Hamid Karzai will probably win the country's second presidential election -- which took place on Aug. 20 and whose full results have not yet been announced -- without needing a run-off. Even if many officials in his government are corrupt, the West should work as closely as possible with him to retain influence in the country. Less arrogance and more partnership, the involvement of the country's difficult neighbors, a crackdown on terrorists, protecting the population and providing systematic assistance to the Afghan people is the only way out of Afghanistan.

Growing Trust

In Kandahar, the Canadians have recently had success with a new approach. In every village in which they have driven out the Taliban, they leave behind a platoon of 30 men to guarantee security for the villagers. They explain to the village elders that they have come to stay. The soldiers and aid workers have money at their disposal and they implement visible aid projects. But the decisive factor is the trust that grows slowly between the foreigners and the population, evidently with success. The Afghans now often provide important information when Taliban attacks are planned or roadside bombs are laid.

US Marines have attempted something similar in the drugs-and-Taliban stronghold of Helmand province. Feared as "shock troops," they now live in remote villages in police stations together with Afghan security forces, exactly as McChrystal has ordered. He has said that American troops should "embrace" the Afghans and "talk, eat and live" with them.

The Germans could also take this advice to heart. It is of little use to entrench themselves in massive military camps in Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif while having to exert herculean efforts to maintain proper security.

In any case, Colonel Klein's fatal act has galvanized the German government. Merkel has proposed a parliamentary conference on Afghanistan and wants to see "measurable" progress in training the Afghan army and police.

Laying the Groundwork for Withdrawal

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is going one step further. He doesn't want withdrawal immediately, but wants to make preparations for it.

In a two-page paper drawn up by the Foreign Ministry titled "10 Steps for Afghanistan," it reads: "In the coming legislative period, the aim is to lay the groundwork for the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We must now set the right course."

In regard to future development assistance, the Steinmeier paper calls for "specific, binding targets and also effective arrangements to oversee implementation." The next conference on Afghanistan, which Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to be held later this year, "should not be content with vague targets," the document continues.

According to the paper, all 122 districts of the German-controlled north of the country are to have "properly trained police" by 2011. Some 1,500 additional police officers should be trained immediately in the flashpoint of Kunduz, the document proposes, while the total number of German instructors for the Afghan army, currently 200, is to be "significantly increased."

The paper even outlines the first stages of a withdrawal. Faizabad, where nearly 500 Bundeswehr soldiers are currently stationed, will be transformed by 2011 into a "training center for security forces and civil administration." In addition, Germany has to "make it possible for Taliban sympathizers to return to Afghan society." To this end, it should "support, including financially, reintegration funds to the best of its ability."

This is no guarantee for success, but it is, at last, a basis for a German debate on Afghanistan, and hopefully it is not too late.

'The Sympathy for the Germans Is Gone'

Dr. Safi Sidique was on duty in Kunduz hospital on the Friday morning when the wounded came from Omar Khel with charred bodies and severed limbs. There were 12 patients in total, and one of them died that same night. The youngest there was 10 years old; two others were 14 and 15. There were Taliban among the wounded. "I treat everyone," says the doctor.

Sidique wears a blue doctor's smock and white plastic shoes. He stands with arms folded in front of a medicine cabinet containing intravenous fluids. The doctor has developed a keen eye for which of his patients are loyal to whom -- he sees it in the way their visitors dress and wear their beards.

Sidique knows what people at the hospital think about the bombing. "Simple village people were killed. They were not Taliban," he says. "The German air strike has changed everything. The sympathy for the Germans is gone. Would it be any different for you if your homeland was bombed?"

RALF BESTE, JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, ULRIKE DEMMER, MATTHIAS GEBAUER, SUSANNE KOELBL, DIRK KURBJUWEIT, HANS-JÜRGEN SCHLAMP, HOLGER STARK, GABOR STEINGART AND ALEXANDER SZANDAR

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© DER SPIEGEL 38/2009
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Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



Graphic: Coalition fatalities Zoom
DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Coalition fatalities

Graphic: The command structure in Afghanistan Zoom
DER SPIEGEL; Fotos: AFP; A. Niedringhaus/AP (2)

Graphic: The command structure in Afghanistan



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