The World from Berlin: 'A NATO Exit Would Be Devastating for Afghanistan'
While the German parliament has voted to extend the Bundeswehr mandate in Afghanistan, most Germans want to see their soldiers return home as soon as possible. But with the Americans ramping up their mandate, it looks like the Bundeswehr is in for the long haul.
Despite the fact that the majority of Germans want their troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, Berlin is committing more not less soldiers and equipment to the NATO-led mission at a time when the US is ramping up its offensive in the country.
On Thursday, the German parliament voted with an overwhelming majority to send four AWACS surveillance aircraft to Afghanistan, accompanied by up to 300 Bundeswehr soldiers. A total of 461 of the 557 lawmakers in the Bundestag approved the extended mandate.
The American offensive in Helmand earned the praise of German commentators. But some ask: how are we going to measure its success?
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung also took pains to reiterate their support of the Afghanistan mission on Thursday. Speaking at the memorial service for three Bundeswehr soldiers who were killed by Taliban near Kunduz on June 23, Jung refused to name an exit date for the German mission.
The AWACS decision came after a long debate over the intended purpose of the deployment. While the German Defense Ministry insists that the aircraft will be used solely to regulate the increased air traffic over Afghanistan, critics warned that, with their capability of transferring digital images in real time, the planes are likely to end up steering combat operations.
Hans-Peter Uhl, security spokesman for the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), broke ranks with his party to demand an end to the Afghanistan mandate. He told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung German troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year, and claimed that the number of soldiers training Afghan police and security forces is half of what it should be to meet the goal of entrusting them with the safety of their own country.
According to a poll published Thursday by the German public broadcaster ARD, 69 percent of Germans believe that the Bundeswehr should leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. This is a 5 percent increase since April of last year, and the highest figure yet in the ARD polls on the issue.
Roughly 3,700 German soldiers are currently stationed in the Hindu Kush, as part of the NATO-led peace-keeping force ISAF. Last October, the Bundestag voted to raise the maximum limit of the number of troops to 4,500.
Also on Thursday, the Americans launched the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office. Four thousand marines stormed the southern Afghanistan Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. The attack reflects the new strategy of the Obama regime, which has made Afghanistan a priority over the war in Iraq. The strategy involves stocking up the troop contingent to 21,000 soldiers and placing greater emphasis on civil reconstruction and economic development.
Most German commentators on Friday praise both the Bundestag decision to extend the mandate and the American offensive.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The American military offensive in Helmand province was long overdue, but wasn't possible until now, because too few soldiers were stationed in southern Afghanistan. The mission was focused on a strategically key valley, of which there are several in Afghanistan."
"But with the offensive, the armed forces are sending out a message that will be heard across Afghanistan and the US: we're coming, and this time we're staying. The troops are going to set up posts in villages and communities, to prevent the return of the Taliban. Then Afghanistan police are going to be brought in, and delegates of the provincial governor. They will be followed by 50 teams of reconstruction helpers with large money bags. The commander says tribal meetings are going to be held immediately. Obviously, they've learned something."
"And we're seeing the same learning process in the German microcosm. The minister explained why the war is somehow a war, but should be called a combat operation. Parliament voted without much to do in favor of the deployment of AWACS aircraft, which can be justified in both military and civilian terms. Suddenly there's consensus that the Bundeswehr's instruction booklets have to be revised, because the extremely defensive understanding of the mission is in fact endangering soldiers. After eight years, we're finally getting a new picture of Afghanistan, a realistic one."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The American forces launch a new offensive in Afghanistan, while in Germany, the Bundeswehr mission is subject to ever more criticism. In this context, Defense Minister Jung deserves all the more respect for refusing to engage in a discussion of exit dates. At the present time, as the Obama government is sending ever more soldiers to Afghanistan, such a discussion would prove deadly: politically, because the Afghanistan mission is being Americanised, and strategically, because the Taliban and their pals could start planning for the time after the departure of the foreign troops. The Afghanistan mission won't last forever but to end it now or soon, would mean not being able to guarantee the security of the country in Afghan hands, and jeopardizing what's already been accomplished. The German government should be clear on one thing: an exit by NATO when things are tending toward defeat would be devastating for the Afghans, the region and beyond."
The left leaning Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"It's Barack Obama's war and he doesn't have much time to win it. If the US isn't showing an upper hand over the Taliban by the time of congressional elections next year, the Democrats are bound to lose seats."
"The Americans have made it very clear in recent weeks that they expect from their NATO allies not only more soldiers but also more resources for civil reconstruction and the training of Afghan police and soldiers. The American government considers the civil component especially important towards persuading Afghans that the American mission is indeed intended to help them."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Until now, when American politicians and military officials talked about 'change' for Afghanistan, they meant finally promoting civil and economic development. They claimed the increase to 21,000 troops was necessary primarily for the training of Afghan army and police."
"But now with this offensive we see that more soldiers -- obviously -- also means more war. The numbers reveal how much progress has been made on the Afghan army training front: for every 4,000 US marines, there are 650 Afghan fighters."
"Neither the boost in troops nor the attack on the Taliban stronghold in the Helmand Valley should cast doubt on Obama's long overdue strategy change. It seems entirely plausible that more money, more reconstruction of cities and even more troops make sense."
"What's missing from the new strategy, and central to its credibility, is a means of measuring its success. How are we going to recognize, by the end of 2010, whether the page has turned and the downward spiral has turned into an upward one? Evidently, Obama's people don't want to promise growing support in the Afghan population, or a decrease in attacks. Their 'change' names no examples. If it remains so, then we're left to assume that the US and NATO are more lost in Afghanistan than ever before."
Naomi Buck, 1:40 p.m. CET
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