The World From Berlin "Germans Don't Really Realize they Are at War"

As Germany decides to send Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan, is this the beginning of a slippery slope that will see German troops getting involved in combat duty in the volatile south?


The Tornado reconnaissance jets should soon be on their way to Afghanistan.
AP/ Luftwaffe

The Tornado reconnaissance jets should soon be on their way to Afghanistan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet agreed on Wednesday to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan to assist its NATO allies in fighting a resurgent Taliban.

The mission has to be approved by the German parliament, the Bundestag, in March and then the jets could be on their way to Afghanistan by April. The government has been quick to rule out the use of the planes, which are equipped with powerful cameras, in attacking enemy targets themselves. Germany's 2,900 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are mostly stationed in the relatively stable northern part of the country, and Berlin has come under pressure to do more to support its allies in the volatile south.

The German press is divided on whether the deployment is a good thing, but most papers agree that it should finally bringing home to Germans the fact that their country is involved in a war.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Behind all the efforts to limit the Tornado mission and to let it appear as if it is not a combat deployment is the hope of being just a little bit pregnant in international politics: to take part in the unavoidable combat against trans-national terrorism and its supporters without getting own their hands too dirty or even burned.

"This is denying reality … The division into a combat mandate and a stabilization and reconstruction mandate is a western distinction, and not one made by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"In Afghanistan it's not just about pinning down a danger that already threatens Germany ... the future fate of NATO is being decided."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"For two years the international do-gooder Germany has been clutching to the fiction that its ISAF soldiers are still providing development aid. This illusion could only be maintained because Berlin's peacekeeping troops were stationed in regions far away from the frontline."

"Since ISAF and the bulk of United States troops have been placed under a joint NATO command, the left hand cannot credibly claim that it doesn’t know what the right hand is doing."

"It is really a shame that NATO only forced the German political establishment to provide Tornado reconnaissance jets. Because that will only mean the continuation of the moral hair splitting and hand ringing over the question of whether it can be legitimate to kill."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung thinks Germany is in denial about its involvement in the war in Afghanistan:

"The federal government knows and is happy that Germans don't really realize that their soldiers are currently involved in a war."

"The fact of the matter is, so far at least, that the Bundeswehr (German army) mission in Afghanistan has matched the image of the uniformed development aid worker, who is armed for his own protection. German soldiers in Afghanistan have always only defended themselves and not carried out any attacks in the military sense. They have avoided combat deployment, even if they were in a war along with NATO. The sending of Tornado reconnaissance jets means the Bundeswehr is now also on a combat mission."

"The government can now say to its NATO partners that German soldiers are fighting at the frontline in the war on terror. And it can say to the parliamentarians and the voters the exact opposite. The fact that this increased international responsibility could lead to a higher number of dead German soldiers, is being repressed as persistently by many parliamentarians as by the German public."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes sarcastically:

"Many Germans were furious when they heard that there is a war in Afghanistan and that German soldiers are there. The Tornados won't change the character of the deployment. For this reason alone the government's decision to send the jets was almost a matter of course. It will help to improve the reconnaissance for the Bundeswehr, their threatened allies and the civilian population. Moreover, it underlines that the Germans are not indifferent to the fate of their partners."

"NATO is based on the idea of solidarity. If is loses strength, the alliance will fall apart. Germany is still reliant on NATO. It is not the European Union but the alliance that offers Germans security."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"US representatives have emphasized credibly how important the decision by the German government to send reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan is to them. At the same time that makes clear the pressure that the Germans are under. In reality, Chancellor Merkel and her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had no realistic chance of refusing the NATO 'request.'"

"This should be clear to the vast majority in parliament. They will make it a precondition of granting their approval in March that Angela Merkel also use Germany's proven solidarity with NATO as currency with which to parlay a greater (German) say in NATO's strategic decision-making in Afghanistan. They will also take pains to ensure that the Tornado deployment does not become a slippery slope by which the German army slides deeper into the fighting."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 2.15 p.m. CET

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