It seems reconstructing a conflict-battered Afghanistan can be thirsty work. It has emerged that huge amounts of alcohol were sent to soldiers based at German camps in the north of the country last year.
Opposition politicians voiced concern Wednesday following the disclosure that more than a million litres of alcohol were sent to camps in Afghanistan over just one year.
The camps where German soldiers are stationed along with some other troops serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), received about 990,000 litres of beer and 69,000 litres of wine and sparkling wine in 2007, according to media reports on Wednesday.
And this year the total is on track to rise, with some 512,000 litres of beer and 42,000 litres of wine being sent out in the first six months of 2008. When the drinks arrrive, they are put up for sale in German-run shops at the camps, most in the relatively peaceful north, where 3,600 Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed.
The amount of alcohol supplied to the troops emerged after the opposition Free Democrats (FDP) submitted a request for information to the German Defence Ministry. The FDP quickly seized on the figures as evidence that not enough was being done to keep soldiers entertained in their spare time.
Elke Hoff, an FDP defence expert, told the German tabloid Bild, where the figures were published Wednesday: "Alcohol obviously plays an alarming role in the Bundeswehr camps." She posed the question: "Is alcohol replacing a lack of other activities?"
But as Germany digs in for a long stay in Afghanistan, it looks like the alcohol imports for the Bundeswehr soldiers will be continuing for some time to come. Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, voted overwhelmingly last month to extend the country's mandate there to December 2009 and raise its troop contingent to 4,500.
Germany is the third-largest contributor to the NATO-led force, and sent soldiers to the country right at the very start of the operation in 2002. Involvement in the conflict has attracted strong criticism, however, both at home and abroad.
The Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan has proved deeply unpopular in Germany, a country which is only slowing rediscovering its military role in the world again.
Last month, German Major General Hans-Lothar Domröse, NATO's third in command in Afghanistan, said the West was " perhaps a bit naïve" in its approach to the war. "The assumption that one could easily defeat the insurgents using conventional means was wrong," he told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Germany's decision to base its army in the relatively peaceful northern part of the country while its NATO allies did much of the fighting in the dangerous south has also proved controversial.
sjr -- with wire reports