Plans Call Afghanistan Mandate into Question Will Germany Be Forced to Raise Troop Limit?
Germany has promised to send combat troops for the Quick Reaction Force in northern Afghanistan. But an internal memo obtained by SPIEGEL shows that more soldiers are needed than previously thought -- meaning that Germany will need to raise its maximum troop limit.
Germany may have to raise its maximum level of troops in Afghanistan.
According to an internal military memorandum obtained by SPIEGEL, around 450 soldiers, including logistics and reconnaissance personnel, will be required for the QRF instead of the approximately 200 troops which were previously planned.
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung announced in early February that Germany would send a unit of combat troops to northern Afghanistan to replace Norway's 250-strong force, which is pulling out in July. Each of the five regional commands of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has a QRF which carries out security and reconnaissance duties and can be deployed at short notice.
Under its parliamentary mandate, Germany can send up to 3,500 soldiers to the less violent north of Afghanistan as part of the roughly 40,000-strong ISAF. But given that Jung also wants to increase Germany's troop presence in the northern city of Kunduz and to send more trainers for the Afghan army, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, would probably have to raise the mandated limit in June. Germany currently has over 3,310 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
However the conservative Bavarian party the Christian Social Union, which is in Germany's governing grand coalition as the sister party to Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, opposes moves to increase troop levels. The CSU does not want troop levels to be raised before Bavarian state elections on Sept. 28, as it is concerned about losing its absolute majority in the state parliament.
In the internal memorandum, the reason for the greater than expected troop numbers for the QRF is justified by the fact that support staff in the Mazar-i-Sharif base, who were supposed to also provide support to the QRF, are already over-burdened.
In addition, the memo expresses reservations about plans to deploy German Marder 1A5 tanks in Afghanistan. The armored vehicles have various defects in terms of engines, cooling systems and hydraulics, according to the memo.
In an interview with SPIEGEL published Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the current Bundestag mandate would not be changed before October, when it will next be renewed. "In this mandate, 3,500 soldiers are the upper limit. ... I have no intention of changing that," she said.
Merkel also reiterated Germany's opposition to missions in the south. "I don't think it makes sense to reduce the operations in the north and permanently move troops to the south," she said. "I believe that it is important for the Afghans that we continue working in the north."
Meanwhile Germany's NATO allies have renewed calls for Berlin to do more. "My administration has made it abundantly clear we expect people to carry a heavy burden if they're going to be in Afghanistan," US President George W. Bush said Saturday after a summit with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. "If we're going to fight as an alliance, let's fight as an alliance."
Although Bush said that he understood there are "certain political constraints on certain countries," he said he was going to "encourage people to contribute more" at the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest.
NATO members fighting in the dangerous south of Afghanistan, mainly Canada, the UK, the US and the Netherlands, are irritated by other allies' restrictions on where their troops can be deployed. Canada and the US have been especially vocal in their criticism of Berlin.
At a German-Canadian security conference in Toronto at the weekend, high-ranking Canadian politicians and academics again accused Germany of not standing by its allies in Afghanistan. "Canada has given up hope that the Germans will come to its help," said the political scientist David Haglund, in remarks quoted by the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. "The Germans have to ask themselves what they actually want from NATO," he added. "What is a country which hates military operations doing in a military alliance?"
Haglund said that Germany's reluctance to take part in combat operations highlighted a fundamental problem with the structure of NATO: the lack of a sanctions mechanism for reluctant allies. If allies like Germany "do not deliver enough, they don't need to fear any kind of punishment, apart from public exposure, and they can not be thrown out of the club," he said.
Bob Rae, foreign policy spokesman for Canada's Liberal Party, was particularly scathing in his criticism. He described Germany's deployment in northern Afghanistan as "not very successful" and said Germany's biggest failure was its efforts to train and re-organize Afghanistan's police force, which have been described as "disappointing" by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "We have to be franker in saying what has failed and why it has failed," Rae said, in reference to the German mission.