Everyone has a different way of catching up to the latest news at the beginning of a workday. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reads the press agency reports from the night before in his car on his way to the office and flips through German and international papers. His colleague, Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, has her staff bring her up to speed every morning at 7:45 a.m. En route to government headquarters, Chancellor Angela Merkel clicks her way through dozens of news reports the Federal Press Office has sent to her mobile phone.
When Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung walks into his office in the morning, a dark gray folder is already on his desk, containing a confidential, eight to nine-page report on the situation in those regions of the world where German troops are deployed.
Most of the report is worth little more than a cursory read. Things are relatively quiet in many of the regions where Jung's units are stationed. In last Tuesday's report on Uzbekistan, for example, German military officials wrote that there was "nothing significant worth reporting." There was also nothing going on in Djibouti, the Gulf of Aden and Gabon -- at least nothing momentous enough to interest the defense minister.
The situation in western Congo is described as "generally quiet and still stable," whereas the Congolese capital Kinshasa is considered "generally quiet, but not stable." Eastern Congo, on the other hand, is "not quiet and not stable," in the German military's assessment.
But Afghanistan features prominently in every situation report. Using the matter-of-fact language of bureaucrats, German military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan report incidents on an almost daily basis. Collectively their reports paint a picture of a looming disaster.
Shifting balance of power
According to last Tuesday's report, "at 1:45 p.m. local time on Nov. 13, 2006, a presumably vehicle-supported suicide bombing was committed against an ISAF patrol on the main Kandahar-Herat road through the Shindand district in Herat Province." Two Spanish soldiers were wounded in the incident. "This," according to the report, "would make it the third suicide attack in Herat Province in 2006" -- and the 96th in Afghanistan this year alone.
Following the murder of a local warlord by members of a rival clan, "the balance of power is currently shifting in Shindand," the analysts wrote in their assessment. Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, known in military jargon as "OMF," or Opposing Military Forces, were apparently involved once again. "Because the nature of the attack suggests OMF involvement," the report concludes, "it is possible that they are taking advantage of the current power vacuum in Shindand and the proximity to the southern fields of operation to become established structurally in the region."
The military leadership sends the minister almost daily reports on clashes between Taliban units and the international protective force ISAF and American counterterrorism units. According to a report filed in late October, a US soldier was killed in a "battle lasting several hours" in Zabul Province. "OMF dominates the province in places where there is little or only intermittent Afghan government or international presence."
Four days earlier, "various combat incidents" were reported in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. There were, according to the report, "signs of another military buildup. Artillery and air sorties are often the only means of avoiding losses of our own forces, although they also carry the fundamental risk of causing collateral damage. This undermines the civilian population's confidence in ISAF's reconstruction and stabilization efforts."
Aside from the details of such incidents, there are two things the reports reveal to the minister on a daily basis. The first is that Afghanistan is experiencing its worst wave of violence since the Taliban regime was toppled five years ago. NATO, which sees itself as the world's most powerful military alliance, faces the real possibility of political and possibly even military defeat in its bloody war of attrition with the Taliban. Second, German soldiers are noticeably absent from the increasingly brutal fighting in the country.
More volatile south
While Canadian, Dutch, British and American troops are waging war in southern Afghanistan, the Germans have established themselves in the country's relatively peaceful north. Their objective there is to address the task of reconstruction in the shattered country -- acting, in essence, as armed social workers with the authority of village cops.
It is a division of labor that will be politically difficult to sustain much longer. Berlin's allies are beginning to demand that the Germans join them at the front. Berlin, for its part, has been just as adamant in opposing any change to the status quo. Last week three members of the cabinet -- the chancellor, the foreign minister and the defense minister -- reiterated the Merkel Administration's opposition to deploying German troops in Afghanistan's more volatile south.
"On this matter we will remain steadfast," Defense Minister Jung said. "We do not believe that our mandate should change," said Merkel. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added: "I see no point in our frantically pulling personnel and troops from the north and redeploying them to someplace in the south."
But contrary to what the politicians are saying, planners at the defense ministry have long been analyzing models under which up to two combat battalions, with combined manpower of about 1,000 troops, could be deployed to reinforce Germany's struggling allies in the south. The allies will discuss the issue at next week's NATO summit in the Latvian capital Riga, and the deployment could well be decided by the time the NATO council meets next spring. If the alliance, in an effort to head off defeat at the hands of the Taliban, calls on all its members to send additional troops, Berlin will hardly be able to avoid being part of the campaign.
For the Germans, it would be a historic moment. For the six decades following World War II, pacifism has become a major part of their identity. And even if the country has sent troops to a number of hotspots recently, the Bundeswehr has become directly involved in only a handful of combat operations.
Germans were hesitant to accept rearmament in the 1950s. And since the end of the Cold War, they have only gradually become accustomed to the idea that their new role in the world will also require the periodic deployment of German soldiers abroad. Rhetorically, at least, administrations from those of former Chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder to the current Merkel government have consistently pandered to their voters' aversion to all things military. And despite gradually expanding the Bundeswehr's range of operations, they have consistently avoided using the term "combat deployment." The voting public was more likely to accept phrases like "peacekeeping mission" and "stabilization force," and if the situation ever threatened to become more serious, the term "robust mandate" was always an option.
Social workers in military fatigues
The defense ministry still refuses to recognize the 64 Bundeswehr soldiers who have lost their lives on foreign missions to date as "war dead." In addition to saving the government the cost of permanently maintaining the graves of soldiers classified as casualties of war, it enables the military to avoid using words like "war," "death" and "foreign mission" in the same context.
The camouflage has paid off. According to opinion polls, the Bundeswehr, along with the Federal Constitutional Court and the police force, have enjoyed the highest levels of public confidence of all public institutions -- possibly because many see the military essentially as an armed relief organization.
German soldiers have carried sandbags in flooded cities like Dresden, helped Serbian mothers in Kosovo and built schools in Afghanistan. They serve as everything from medics to social workers, but what they are not, at least in the public conscience, are fighters trained to kill other human beings -- and who could possibly be killed in the process. They are content to let others do the killing and dying while they travel the world as social workers dressed in military fatigues.
But now, after decades of displaying willingness to accept that Germany needed time to return to normalcy, Germany's NATO partners are becoming impatient. Their fear of a rebirth of German militarism has given way to a need for more German involvement -- and the days of German postwar pacifism could well be numbered.
The upshot is that Berlin may be entering the final phase of its return to the international stage, one in which German soldiers could soon embark on combat missions where they will shoot and be shot at. The question now is whether Germany is ready -- emotionally, politically and militarily -- for war.
Part II: "NATO will be finished" if the alliance fails in Afghanistan
It is certainly justifiable to question whether an army with virtually no combat experience is even capable of going into battle side-by-side with British, Canadian or American soldiers. The only units in the Bundeswehr that have ever been exposed to the tremendous pressures of heavy combat are its special forces. But they make up less than 1 percent of the number of Bundeswehr troops that would be needed for the kind of operation NATO partners envision.
"NATO will be finished" if the alliance fails in Afghanistan, says former US presidential advisor Brent Scowcroft. But does it even stand a chance of winning the war in the first place?
It seemed all too easy at the beginning. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, NATO members were called upon, for the first time, in fact, to honor their collective commitment to defend individual alliance member-states. When the US invaded Afghanistan a short time later, the ruling Taliban and their menacing guest, terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, quickly took to their heels. Suddenly the mountainous country became a stage for far-reaching Western ambition. Or naiveté. A stabile democracy was to be developed -- and this in a country that had always been fragile. Moreover, Afghanistan's Muslim neighbors -- in western Iran, eastern Pakistan and, to the north, in the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- eyed the Western invasion with great suspicion.
The current backlash now seems virtually unavoidable. Five years after the US invasion, the Taliban are on the advance and the drug barons are making more money than ever, money that ends up paying for the war against the Taliban's NATO enemies.
Infrastructure in ruins
Are the NATO forces falling into the trap that has often ensnared foreign soldiers who have fought in the region? When Alexander the Great passed through the region on his way to India, he encountered as much resistance from the Afghans as did Mongol leader Genghis Khan. In the 19th century, Afghanistan became a critical pawn in the confrontation between two world powers: czarist Russia, which was pushing for access to the Indian Ocean, and the British empire, which saw its crown jewel, India, in jeopardy. British troops suffered humiliating defeat twice at the hands of the Afghans. A century later, Afghan guerillas even managed to force the Soviet superpower to withdraw its forces.
This huge country of 31 million is one of the world's poorest, and has one of the world's highest rates of infant mortality and mortality in childbirth. Much of its infrastructure is still in ruins. Even many Afghans working within the government bureaucracy are bitterly poor. When former German Chancellor Schröder and his entourage visited Kabul in May 2002, they had hardly stood up from a state dinner when hungry bodyguards and government employees descended on the tables to quickly devour the leftovers.
Now, it seems, it is the Germans turn to fight here. Just how strong the pressure is becoming became evident to Karsten Voigt, Merkel's coordinator of German-American relations, on a recent visit to the United States. After initially commending Voigt for Germany's role in Afghanistan, his US counterparts quickly came to the point. They accused the Germans of "focusing on reconstruction and securing the peace, but leaving the dirty work up to us." And then someone uttered a sentence that Voigt is unlikely to forget anytime soon. "The Germans have to learn how to kill" -- a clear reference to the Taliban enemy.
But Voigt is not the only one who has recently felt the displeasure of Germany's allies. "The pressure keeps mounting," says a German officer at NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium. Remarks that were elegantly packaged only a few weeks ago are now being "worded clearly and unmistakably." Only recently, says the German officer, one of his British counterparts told him angrily: "We're sending two coffins home every week, while you Germans hand out crayons and wool blankets."
"To kill Taliban"
The Canadians have been especially clear. Of a total of 33,000 soldiers in the Canadian military, more than 2,000 are stationed in Afghanistan -- "with their backs to the wall," say the Canadians. It is high time, they added, for the Germans to abandon their bunks and learn "to kill Taliban."
The Germans were also criticized at a meeting of NATO parliamentarians in Quebec, Canada last Thursday. In a debate over national caveats -- limits imposed by some countries on what their soldiers in Afghanistan can be asked to do -- Bruce George, the chairman of the defense committee in Britain's House of Commons, and Labour MP Frank Cook vented their anger against the German allies. Some drink tea and beer, while others risk their lives, George fumed.
Cook told the group about of an incident in which, during "Operation Medusa," the ISAF commander-in-chief requested assistance for the beleaguered Canadians. "Five nations refused," he said indignantly, while at first declining to name the five. But then he described the specifics of the incident. According to Cook, a German commander said that although there were soldiers available under his command, Berlin had refused to authorize their deployment. Twelve Canadian soldiers, Cook said, were then killed in the operation in Afghanistan's Panjwai District.
The German government was quick to rebuff the accusations on Friday, with the defense ministry insisting that "such a request was never issued."
But the damage had been done, and the German parliamentarians were promptly taken to task in Quebec. "Our soldiers are dying while yours are drinking beer," Rainer Stinner, a member of the German parliament and of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) said in summarizing the essence of the accusations.
Really, though, the emotional outbursts aren't necessary; all it takes for the allies to put Germany on the defensive is to refer to hard numbers. So far the Afghanistan campaign has claimed the lives of 42 Canadians, 41 Britons and 350 Americans, but "only" 18 Germans. Indeed, the unspoken core of the dispute among allies comes down to this: the balance of the dead in the Afghanistan war.
Political factors take precedence
But the Germans are not the only ones who have limited their commitment. Although 37 nations have sent a total of 31,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, the political restrictions imposed by their governments have meant that most units can only be deployed under a limited set of conditions.
The chaos is already evident at the "Strategic Direction Center," the heart of NATO's military machine in Mons. This is where all foreign missions are prepared and managed, and where the various responsibilities of units from a wide range of countries are coordinated. But when Colonel David Short and his strategists bend over a map of Afghanistan to plan troop movements, the factors they must take into account are not just geographic or military. A notebook, always within reach, contains the political factors -- and they take precedence.
The book is marked "Confidential," and it cannot be removed from the room or even photocopied. It contains 102 clauses that regulate the latitude for deployments and movements of the various national troop contingents. British soldiers, for example, are not to be sent to the north, Turkish troops can only be deployed in the Kabul region, and Germans can be sent to the dangerous south and east only under certain conditions -- conditions stipulated by the Bundestag when it approved Germany's participation in the Afghanistan mission.
These national conditions are called caveats, and they are anathema to the senior NATO commanders in Europe responsible for Afghanistan. American four-star General James Jones believes that if some members expect the troops of other nations to defend them when they are in need, the reverse must also be true. After all, says Jones, this is only fair. Eliminating the caveats, he adds, would be just as effective as bringing in additional troops.
"Those who give without caveats are giving twice as much," says Polish Defense Minister Radoslav Sikorsky, who has promised up to 1,000 soldiers for next year -- without restrictions.
Aside from not having enough troops, the mission also lacks a precise definition of its goal. When, for example, would it be appropriate to apply the now-infamous term "mission accomplished?" Would it be when the Taliban have ceased to fight, the drug cartels have been destroyed and Afghan politics are clean and the government is in charge of its own country? Or when the US president declares it accomplished? No one can say.
Instead, the military brass are issuing reports from the front that read like the overly optimistic situation reports American officials broadcast during the Vietnam War. After "Operation Medusa" ended, both NATO military commanders and politicians at home bragged about its success and attempted to outdo one another with their macabre body counts. At first it was 500 Taliban, then 800 and finally 1,100 fighters that an international force consisting of Americans, Canadians, Dutch and Afghans allegedly killed in September. But it is clear that, despite NATO officials' claims to the contrary, this failed to stop the advance of the radical Islamists. But at least "Medusa" created a bit of breathing space for the ISAF forces.
The soldiers now in Afghanistan are told that they are "fighting for hearts and minds." But this is precisely what NATO troops have sorely neglected to do for years, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the remnants of terrorist organization al-Qaida and its Islamist jihad fighters driven out by an American-led contingent have gone into hiding. But now the new "hearts and minds" campaign takes priority. For example, whenever NATO soldiers enter a village, a meeting of the village council, or Jirga, is held to allow residents to discuss their problems.
They have been more than happy to comply, complaining at length about their misery. The villagers at these Jirga say that they have seen little improvement in the last five years since US troops marched into their country following 23 years of war and civil strife. They blame their suffering on the foreigners, Taliban and NATO soldiers alike, and on the government -- any government.
Part III: The disaster of reconstruction
The rulers in Kabul are at fault because they are unable to repel the resurgent Taliban. The governor in the provincial capital is a villain because he makes sure the reconstruction funds are funneled to members of his own tribe. And, of course, the police chief is a bad man because he is both incompetent and corrupt. The Taliban's presence is being felt more and more, as they shoot mullahs who do not completely share their views, teachers who dare to teach girls, engineers who manage reconstruction projects and policemen who carry out the central government's orders.
The opium farmers are the only ones seemingly immune to the Taliban's bullets. Indeed, the Taliban help them defend their fields against alliance soldiers and policemen intent on destroying them. According to a nationwide opinion poll conducted this summer, one in four Afghans feels worse off today than under the Taliban regime. In contested Helmand Province, as much as 80 percent of the population sympathize with the Taliban and its holy warriors.
Killing has long since become a profitable business for the families of the murderers. The Taliban has announced a $2,000 reward for anyone who attacks a member of the new Afghan government forces, and $3,000 for those who strike the Western troops. Afghanistan's insurgents have undoubtedly learned a few lessons from their likeminded brethren in Iraq.
Mistakes have been made by everyone in Afghanistan, Germans and Europeans in addition to the Americans. Indeed, the entire international community seemed determined to fight a war on the cheap in Afghanistan, and to apply the same approach to the ensuing reconstruction effort. Tightfistedness was the name of the game.
Democratic Afghanistan, on paper at least
It began with the war itself. Although NATO invoked its collective defense clause for the first time in its history after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Americans, eager to retain control, initially had no interest in requesting troops from their allies. Besides, the deployment of larger contingents of ground troops seemed unnecessary. Instead, the United States waged an aerial war in which its planners frequently complained that, in the world's fifth-poorest country, there were too few targets worth bombing. More importantly, the Americans waged a proxy war by securing the help of many mujaheddin and warlords they had supported during the Russian occupation in the 1980s. Kabul had hardly been captured before these Afghan allies, sensing a new opportunity, demanded their just deserts.
An opportunity to satisfy that demand emerged during the negotiations at the Petersberg conference center near Bonn. The so-called Bonn Process was meant to establish a basis for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan.
On paper, at least, Afghanistan now has all those things that were agreed to, partly in response to palpable pressure from Washington and Berlin, at the United Nations-sponsored conference outside Bonn. President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun selected and championed by the Americans, has since been democratically elected by the Afghan people. In 2004 a constitutional convention, or Loya Jirga, provided the Afghans with a reasonably democratic constitution. The people's representatives were given substantial powers. They were to participate in determining political guidelines, ratify or reject ministerial appointments and confirm the judges on the county's highest court.
But the problem is that this strong, democratic Afghanistan exists at best on paper and in the imagination of the victorious Western countries. Everyone looked the other way when this new Afghanistan promptly returned to chaos, criminality and violence.
In hopes of preserving peace and stability, the central government and the Western allies allowed the once powerful local warlords to once again set up their own small fiefdoms in the provinces. The warlords soon became rivals for reconstruction aid, re-established opium cultivation and periodically resorted to violence. But as long as they swore allegiance to the central government, at least verbally, they were allowed to do as they pleased within the areas they controlled. They reduced Karzai's role to little more than the mayor of Kabul.
Chief of staff with blood on his hands
Even worse, the president was forced to award posts in the central government to his rivals and opponents, no matter how bloody their pasts were. Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum's career is the prototype. During the Soviet occupation, Dostum fought on Moscow's side against the mujaheddin, but he later embarked on a confusing series of switches in allegiance. In November 2001, Dostum, allied with the Americans, captured his former stronghold, Mazari Sharif, a city whose Shiite population the Taliban had brutally persecuted. After capturing the city, Dostum used equally brutal tactics in dealing with the enemy. He had captured Taliban locked into containers and taken out into the desert, where they would suffocate to death. Despite the fact that his reputation for violence kept him from attending the Petersberg conference, Dostum was appointed acting defense minister of the transitional government at the peace conference, and was later a candidate for the presidency. He has been chief of staff of the new Afghan army since 2005.
For years, the country's south and east remained the exclusive deployment region for "Operation Enduring Freedom" (OEF), a group consisting mainly of US troops, initially numbering about 5,000. They hunted down al-Qaida members and blew up Taliban positions, showing a clear aversion to any ideas of reconstruction or development aid.
Instead of a comprehensive reconstruction concept, the UN agreed to a loose allocation of responsibilities. Under the plan, the US would train a new Afghan army of 70,000 men and the Japanese would be in charge of demobilizing about 100,000 members of private militias. The Germans' task was to train a new 62,000-member police force. Ironically, the Italians were to provide assistance in developing a new judicial system, while the British would manage a campaign against drug cultivation.
The allocation of responsibilities proved to be a fiasco. When the then American ambassador in Kabul, Robert Finn, saw the new army's first supposedly trained recruits during a exercise, he was appalled: "They were illiterate," he said. "They didn't know how to keep themselves clean. They were at a much lower level than people expected."
The new police force was no more impressive. Afghanistan's new custodians of the law, originally a force of about 80,000 men, were completely unaccustomed to patrolling city streets. Instead, they preferred to set up checkpoints, where they would wait for Afghans to drop in and report crimes -- at which point they could decide whether to take action, a decision that all too often depended on the requesters' ability to pay bribes.
The Germans sent only 41 advisors to bring this force up to speed. They opened a police academy in Kabul where 3,500 police officers were to be trained within three years. German officials continue to justify this minimalist approach to this day, insisting that it was more important to train a core group of effective people who could then pass on their freshly acquired skills. But no one ever bothered to consider the possibility that time could also be a factor.
Only in recent weeks has NATO Supreme Allied Commander Jones criticized the work of the German police training contingent, calling it "very disappointing." According to NATO officials in Kabul, the 16,000 German-trained, local police officers are "poorly trained, poorly paid and corrupt."
The Americans took matters into their own hands. To speed up police training, they hired a private contracting firm, Dyncorp, which produced results even inferior to those achieved by the Germans. After two or three weeks of the most rudimentary training possible, Dyncorp would release the recruits onto the streets, where they were more likely to do harm than good.
The Japanese made no headway in their disarmament program. In Helmand Province, traditionally a stronghold of the insurgents, the program didn't even get underway until 2005. The Italians' efforts to develop the judicial system has also lagged far behind its ambitious goals, so much so, in fact, that war criminals and drug dealers remain unconcerned about the possibility of criminal prosecution. And the British anti-drug campaign has only led to record opium harvests and to the fact that 92 percent of the heroin sold in the world stems from Afghan fields.
The mainly American OEF troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan quickly developed a reputation, not only for hunting down terrorists but also for the collateral damage they caused. Innocent civilians were constantly being killed during US air attacks. From time to time, the Americans were even tricked by their own allies who, apparently with scores to settle with hostile clans, provided carefully targeted tips to direct American firepower against their rivals' houses or convoys.
It wasn't until late 2003 that the Western nations involved in Afghan reconstruction realized that the situation had become untenable. ISAF boosted its troop numbers and began stationing its soldiers and reconstruction teams outside Kabul. That was when the Bundeswehr's soldiers were sent to the country's northern provinces. But precious time had already been lost.
Primarily strategic importance
If most Afghans had initially welcomed the soldiers from Western countries as liberators after the fall of the Taliban regime, the mood shifted long ago. Instead, when Canadian and British ISAF units advanced into the south, an area formerly held exclusively by OEF troops, they were confronted with an insurgency.
The realists among military leaders are now convinced that fighting the Taliban will be a lengthy operation. But unlike the situation in Iraq, the countries that are supplying the bulk of troops in Afghanistan, the United States and Great Britain, are not seriously considering a withdrawal. Experts agree that Afghanistan's importance is primarily of a strategic nature.
If the Taliban were to retake the country, it would have serious and perhaps even disastrous consequences for the entire region. As cynical as it sounds, the West could still accept losing Afghanistan. But neighboring Pakistan is a different story. About the only thing that has stood between that country's Islamists and the atom bomb is Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf is already having great difficulties keeping his country's fundamentalists in check. The Pakistani president, who has barely managed to escape several attempts on his life, is currently the West's most important ally in its war against terror. It is difficult to imagine Musharraf holding his own if NATO were to abandon Afghanistan. Even NATO Supreme Allied Commander Jones has since recognized that the country's problems cannot be solved "by military force alone." He believes that far more attention must be paid to rebuilding the country and that a civilian presence is also needed.
Jones' comments couldn't be more pleasing to German Chancellor Merkel's ears, as they reflect precisely the sort of policy the Germans find so crucial. At a morning strategy meeting in the Chancellery last Wednesday, the muddled situation in Afghanistan was discussed. Volker Kauder, parliamentary floor leader of Merkel's conservatives, and whose wife, a physician, periodically works in developing countries, has urged the government to increase its civilian efforts.
Kauder cites historical reasons to support his argument that a new Marshall Plan is what's needed for Afghanistan. According to Kauder, the policy of division that was instituted after 1945 allowed each of the global powers to control a part of Europe. But there was no policy of unity, as the Germans painfully learned when they toppled the Berlin Wall. No one was prepared for what was to come.
More fighting for Germany?
Nowadays the West is pursuing a worldwide policy of intervention that focuses primarily on military force. "But what happens after victory?" Kauder asks, shrugging his shoulders. "We must learn to develop a policy of opportunity for the countries in question." The community of nations, says Kauder, must invest money and attention to solidify its military victories.
Kauder recommends taking a more cautious approach in Afghanistan, especially one that does not begin with the burning of opium fields to combat heroin production. "The West must offer the farmers compensation, and we must gradually wean them away from it," he says. A group of senior German administration officials will soon meet to address alternative ways to develop Afghanistan economically. Cabinet ministers should take note. Members of Merkel's staff cite Kauder as saying: "The development minister sits in the cabinet, behaving as if everything were absolutely fine, and doesn't seem to think this is her business."
Although Kauder's comments did catch the attention of the defense minister, he faces his own set of problems. The Germans will hardly be able to dodge their allies' increasingly vocal demands for combat support by increasing their civil commitment. Indeed, no senior official can rule out the possibility that German forces could indeed be seeing more fighting in the not so distant future. But if Berlin has its way such deployment will at least be postponed for as long as possible.
In page after page of documents for the command staff ("ISAF -- Arguments for German Involvement"), the defense minister has carefully listed all of Germany's current military contributions. "It is not just the Afghans," he writes, "especially in the northern provinces, who depend on us and expect us to continue our involvement without change. The 18 nations that provide troops stationed in the north also depend on us." Germany, writes Jung, is responsible for tactical air transport, "air-supported medical care," operating the "logistical hub for all nations" at the airport in Mazari Sharif," and so on.
Even this PR effort will crumble at some point, and in anticipation of this event officials at the Chancellery and the defense ministry are already drawing up plans for a retreat. One of the Bundeswehr's coveted Luna reconnaissance drones, including an operating staff of 30, would help support Berlin's interest in the success of the "total operation." But Tornado reconnaissance jets would be even better.
Defense Minister Jung and Bundeswehr Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, concerned that the Bundestag would refuse to approve more than the current 3,000 troops for the ISAF mission, already proposed this idea during the German parliament's last debate over Afghanistan. But now the idea is being revived -- to give the chancellor more latitude at next week's NATO summit in Riga.
If the plan were approved, six Tornado jets from the "Immelmann" reconnaissance unit in northern Germany would be stationed at the new German headquarters in Mazari Sharif, as well as a 250-man crew to handle air operations, maintenance and analysis of aerial images. However, this would require that Germany's Grand Coalition government obtain a new mandate from the Bundestag, because deploying the aerial unit would exceed the troop strength allowed under the current rules.
Officials in Berlin are no longer overly confident that this approach would work. NATO allies were unimpressed, one of Jung's advisors said last week. But the pressure on Germany will only mount with each new NATO casualty. "They want to see a battalion of German grenadiers in Kandahar."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan