The World from Berlin 'Germany Should Not Change its Basic Afghanistan Strategy'

A day after NATO formerly requested that Germany send combat troops to Afghanistan and two days after Canada warned it would leave if more help didn't come south, Germans are debating whether sending more troops means more danger.

A German soldier stands guard in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

A German soldier stands guard in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Germany announced on Tuesday that NATO had made a formal request that it provide combat troops to replace the Norwegian Quick Reaction Force currently stationed in northern Afghanistan and due to end its mission there at the beginning of the summer.

The announcement came one day after Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned that his country would only extend its own mission in Afghanistan if other NATO countries deploy more troops to the more violent south.

Germany will make a final decision in the coming weeks as to whether it will deploy up to 250 combat troops to the country to supplement the 3,500 German soldiers already serving there, primarily in the more peaceful north.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday. Speaking to the press, he countered criticisms that the deployment would differ fundamentally from the Bundeswehr's current peacekeeping and reconstruction roles.

Bernhard Gertz, head of the German army federation -- a kind of union for the armed forces -- warned this weekend that the Bundeswehr had to be prepared to "see comrades coming back in wooden boxes after this type of fighting." On Wednesday, responding to the NATO request, Gertz voiced doubts about whether Germany has the correct weapons and communications devices to equip a rapid reaction force in Afghanistan. Speaking to the Passauer Neue Presse, he said that Jung had to address these issues: "That has to change quickly: the defense minister has to invest here."

Meanwhile, Germany's Green Party warned on Wednesday that the deployment of combat troops to northern Afghanistan could lead to the spread of the German mission to the volatile south of the country. Party defense spokesman Winfried Nachtwei told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the Quick Reaction Force should not "open the door for the Bundeswehr in the south," and that the government should "guarantee that the limits of the mandate up to now are maintained." Nachtwei insisted that the combat troops should only be allowed to support troops in the north and not be sent to fight the insurgency.

The German media on Wednesday looked at the implications of the NATO request, which could see Germany further embroiled in Afghanistan.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The defense minister is once again having a hard time explaining the decision, which had been made quite a while ago, to a predominantly critical public. Once again he has to hold out as a rationale the fiction of 'NATO's request,' which one can't turn down. This time even a letter from NATO headquarters was ordered. And that it just happened to arrive on the day that Minister Jung visited Kabul can be no coincidence. This unnecessarily defensive tactic for reinforcing your own troops serves neither the substance nor the debate about the deployment in Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have already lost 83 soldiers in the south, are threatening -- and not without due cause -- that they don't intend to stay there much longer, if soldiers from other members of the coalition don't get involved there."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"There's no reason to panic, but there surely is reason to worry. …The arguments of the critics who are warning of the dangers of the new Afghanistan deployment are justified. The politicians should stop playing them down and allaying them. It is right to not change the German army's basic strategy in Afghanistan and to not go on the offensive against the Taliban. But it is also right that the mission of a 'fire brigade' deployment is differentiated from those of the combat troops working with the regional reconstruction teams, the so called PRTs. 'QRF is not PRT,' said Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan (referring to the Quick Reaction Force), which is exactly the issue."

"The German army is providing the Quick Reaction Force, because no other NATO partner is ready to assume the task. In doing so, Germany is not immune to additional demands by its allies."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Germany cannot turn down the request from Brussels, demanding loyalty and solidarity with the allied partner countries -- the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Great Britain -- who are under constant fire in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt of the rightness of the allied mission against a nihilistic opponent, who -- if it ever got the chance to again -- would impose its totalitarian and inhumane world view on Afghan society. But there must be more truthfulness in the discussions concerning Germany's deployment. Won't the NATO partners just increase their demands on Germany, just as they are indirectly doing with Canada now?"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes about the "trans-Atlantic relationship's test of endurance:"

"Of course, it's easy for the Americans to point the finger at the other allies. But it's also true that it was in no way the case that all Europeans were convinced of the usefulness of the mission to Afghanistan in the first place. (It) is far away. The overthrow of the Taliban is already six years behind us, and yet the allies are preparing themselves to stay there for many more years. The burdens have already been enormous. There's no chance that voters are going to allow further adventures."

-- Josh Ward, 1:00 p.m. CET


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