Five Questions, Four Agendas Germany's Top Parties Debate Foreign Policy Agenda

Part 3: Germany in Afghanistan


Germany in Afghanistan

Exit strategy or commitment to engagement?

Erler: Both. Withdrawal is written into our military engagement. An exit is possible once we have reached our goal, an Afghan state that is capable of providing for both its internal and external security. Our troops will certainly not remain in Afghanistan beyond this point. However, one thing must be made clear. Until this has been achieved, we will stick to our commitments. This is not just in response to our moral obligations to the men and women of Afghanistan, who have placed their hopes in us. Our interests also demand it. An Afghanistan, once again, in the hands of fundamentalist extremists, would pose too great a threat to regional stability and our own security.

von Klaeden: The devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, were planned in Afghanistan. Since then, the risk of terrorism emanating from that country has been curbed to a great extent. Stabilizing Afghanistan, however, remains one of the priorities of international security policy if we are to ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for globally active terrorists. We must not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s when international indifference to Afghanistan did a great deal to encourage the rise of the Taliban. We, therefore, are happy that President Obama has made Afghanistan one of the priorities of his foreign policy and that he is involving Pakistan in his strategy. Without close cooperation with Pakistan it is impossible to deny the Taliban access to the region bordering Afghanistan, which the Taliban uses as a safe haven. As long as the Taliban can find sanctuary, no lasting peace can be brought to Afghanistan. Pakistan, moreover, needs our help to deal with terrorist threats within its own borders. It is extremely gratifying that the new Afghanistan strategy adopted by the current US administration has further reinforced the European concept of a comprehensive approach. In other words, the new strategy has placed greater emphasis on the civil reconstruction effort and better coordination of civil and military measures. The goal is still to enable the Afghan government to assume responsibility for its country's security, stability, and development. Germany, which has taken responsibility for the north of Afghanistan, will remain committed to this goal. We must not yield to the growing pressure from the Taliban and leave the Afghan people in the cold by withdrawing our forces prematurely.

Trittin: These two notions by no means exclude one another. No one wants international troops and the Bundeswehr to stay in Afghanistan forever -- neither the Afghans nor those countries providing troops. At the same time, no responsible individual can seriously contemplate an immediate military withdrawal. Those who would propagate a swift withdrawal are either naive or happy to accept the logical consequences, namely an end to civil reconstruction work and a return to civil war that would end with a Taliban victory.

But we must think seriously about the concrete goals as well as realistic and verifiable timetables. German citizens are concerned that their country is gradually becoming caught in a military gridlock. This concern must be taken seriously -- and it must be allayed. The "war discussion" is a sign that Germans are no longer going to be fobbed off by their government's whitewashing of the situation.

In view of the increasingly difficult situation in Afghanistan, we cannot plead for perseverance at home while engaging halfheartedly on the ground. That is what we accuse Chancellor Merkel and her government of doing. Solely sending more soldiers is not enough. She does not tell us how long the Bundeswehr will be engaged; but then she balks when it comes to doubling reconstruction aid and fulfilling Germany's promise to assist in building up the Afghan police force, a job which requires 500 German police officers.

I have the impression that Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Jung enjoy awarding medals for bravery and having the soldiers take oaths of allegiance with the symbolic Reichstag backdrop. Instead of praising a compulsory military service that is no longer justifiable from a national security standpoint, our head of government should take care that those soldiers who have been sent overseas, in particular to Afghanistan, are able to fulfill their mission quickly and safely.

Strategically, the United States under President Obama has embarked on a genuine change of course. His strategy in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan entails less military action that threatens civilian lives and more regional diplomacy as well as more civilian aid. The European Union must contribute to the success of these efforts. That means more civilian aid, more training, and more state-building efforts -- for a military "victory" per se will never be achieved in Afghanistan. Our chancellor needs to start a police and civilian reconstruction offensive and recruit the other EU and NATO states along with our partners in the international community to join these efforts.

Instead of an exit strategy or an avowal of engagement, what we need is the clear commitment to a primarily civilian mission in Afghanistan with military protection and a medium-term exit strategy.

Westerwelle: We want to end every German military deployment as quickly as is realistically possible. However, it is important not to create the impression that "exit strategy" and "commitment to engagement" are somehow alternatives that lead to the same goal. Withdrawing from Afghanistan now would mean again abandoning the country to radical Islamists who first terrorize their own people and then extend their terrorism to the world at large. The images of public executions and the destruction of religious sites by the Taliban remain in my mind as clearly as the images of 9/11. These things cannot be allowed to happen again. At the same time it is very clear that outside actors cannot guarantee that such acts of terror will not occur. Consequently, we need to ensure as quickly as possible that the Afghans are able to provide security within their own country so that development in other areas can move forward. Then we will have reached the point where we can start a staged withdrawal of the international military presence. In the case of police training, the German government has been far too slow in meeting its own, self-imposed obligations. A precipitous withdrawal will only result in Kabul once again becoming the capital of world terrorism. Our engagement in Afghanistan is not based on altruism. We are there to protect our own security interests.

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