Two Views on Afghanistan Mission 'The War Is a Breeding Program for Terrorists'

Germany's military deployment in Afghanistan has split public opinion back home. SPIEGEL talks to former German Defense Minister Peter Struck and Jürgen Todenhöfer, a prominent critic of the war, about civilian victims of American bombing attacks, negotiations with the Taliban and the role of al-Qaida.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Struck, is Germany safer today, after seven years of having the German army, the Bundeswehr, in Afghanistan?

Struck: Of course. Under the Taliban regime, the threat of terrorism coming from Afghanistan was much greater for us in Europe and in Germany. We will still have to defend our security in the Hindu Kush region. This statement will continue to be true until Afghanistan no longer poses a threat in terms of terrorism.

A funeral service for three German soldiers killed in Afghanistan is held on July 2.
Getty Images

A funeral service for three German soldiers killed in Afghanistan is held on July 2.

SPIEGEL: Do you also feel safer, Mr. Todenhöfer?

Todenhöfer: On the contrary. This NATO mission puts Germany in danger. The images of American bombing attacks, civilian casualties and destroyed villages flicker across the television screens of millions of Muslim households around the world. Obviously, there are young people -- even in our country -- who will not put up with this and will want to defend themselves. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is chasing terrorists in Germany that his fellow cabinet minister, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is creating in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is a breeding program for terrorists.

SPIEGEL: You make it sound as if the deployment of German soldiers to the Hindu Kush was both naïve and irresponsible.

Todenhöfer: Even politicians are allowed to make mistakes. But they must have the courage to correct them. The SPD was always proud of being the party of peace. That's why I want politicians like Peter Struck to have the courage to correct mistakes. I know several leading German politicians who consider this war to be bullshit, but who wouldn't dare say it out loud.

Struck: Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said exactly the same thing to our parliamentary group a few weeks ago: We have to get out of Afghanistan. That's indisputable. But it will take time. Much depends on the plans of the new American administration.

Todenhöfer: Why don't you adopt a resolution in the Bundestag calling on the American government to stop its bombing of villages? Anyone who protests against al-Qaida's suicide terrorism must also protest against the US's bombing terror.

Struck: Civilian casualties are horrible and unacceptable. We have been talking to the Americans about this for a long time. As far as I know, they have now changed their plans of action. But our influence on the Americans is, of course, limited.

Todenhöfer: But we are an independent country, not some vassal state.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Todenhöfer, have we understood you correctly? Are you putting al-Qaida and the American government on the same level?

Todenhöfer: It doesn't make any difference to a Muslim child whether he is ripped apart by an al-Qaida suicide bomber or an American bomb. The Bush administration killed far more Muslim civilians than al-Qaida killed Western civilians. We have to stop applying this double standard.

SPIEGEL: At this point, Obama has no plans to leave Afghanistan. In fact, he even wants to deploy more troops.

Todenhöfer: That's a mistake. The Afghans want fewer, not more American troops. Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me that he could very easily do without more German combat missions and additional American soldiers.

SPIEGEL: But the air attacks that you criticize are necessary precisely because there are too few soldiers deployed on the ground. In other words, the 30,000 additional GIs could very well eliminate the need for many of the bombing attacks.

Todenhöfer: The NATO ground troops immediately call in air support when they hear a single gunshot in their vicinity. And then the bombing begins. The Western troops would rather accept civilian casualties than fight. Five wedding parties were blown up in the last year alone.

Struck: The bombings, which claim the lives of innocent people, are terrible. Incidentally, Jim Jones, the US president's national security adviser, is actually a very level-headed man who weighs up decisions carefully. It's the soldiers and commanders in the field who, fearing for their own lives, tend to use force, irrespective of the consequences.

SPIEGEL: Are the Germans partly responsible?

Todenhöfer: Of course we are responsible. The information provided by German reconnaissance aircraft isn't just available to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force, but also to the US-led anti-terror Operation Enduring Freedom, which uses that information for bombing attacks.

Struck: I don't believe that Germans share the responsibility, nor do the Afghan people. We don't bomb in the region for which we are responsible.

SPIEGEL: But it was only last week that the Bundeswehr requested American air support when three German soldiers were killed near Kunduz.

Struck: Of course, there can be situations in which air support is necessary to save the lives of German soldiers. But it is important to avoid civilian casualties. To my knowledge, there were none in that attack.

SPIEGEL: The Bundeswehr operation is increasingly becoming a pure combat mission, which has already claimed the lives of 35 German soldiers. Has the German strategy of militarily backed reconstruction failed?

Struck: Absolutely not! Combat activities in the immediate vicinity of Kunduz have increased. But it is generally quiet in the rest of the large northern region. Of course, we are worried about the situation in Kunduz.

SPIEGEL: But surely it's become too dangerous to carry out development activities such as digging wells and setting up girls' schools.

Struck: That isn't entirely true. Reconstruction is moving ahead in many places, although the pace is admittedly too slow. The international community ought to do more in this regard. However, the fact that it has been quieter in the north until now ultimately has something to do with the way we interact with Afghans in the region. Civilian reconstruction has always been important to us, and it remains important.

Todenhöfer: Yet far too little is being done.

SPIEGEL: The truth is that the international community has spent only $7 million (€5 million) a day on reconstruction in recent years. By comparison, the US military mission alone costs $100 million (€71 million) a day. Civilian reconstruction doesn't seem to be all that important.

Struck: There's no getting around the fact that military campaigns cost money. However, it is true that the ratio of reconstruction aid to military spending is off. But no one expected that we would be there this long. We thought we would go in for a short while, stabilize the country and leave again. It was a miscalculation.


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