The World from Berlin Slouching Towards Combat

Amid worsening security in Afghanistan, NATO has been pressing for German troops to join the front lines in the dangerous south. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government appears poised to provide additional help in the form of reconnaissance jets that can be converted into fighters -- whether parliament likes it or not.

The situation on the ground in Afghanistan has been getting steadily worse, and NATO needs all the help it can get. The Allies have been pressuring the German government to send troops to southern Afghanistan to reinforce the American, British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch forces embroiled in increasingly dangerous skirmishes with the Taliban and other enemies there.

So far, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted pressure from NATO to engage German troops in active combat missions. The Bundeswehr is doing a good job with its peace-keeping and reconstruction efforts in the relatively calm region north of Kabul, and the public back home is not particularly keen on the idea of a new German offensive in the "war on terror."

Under Allied pressure, Merkel's cabinet appears poised to provide additional assistance at NATO's request -- this time in the form of Tornado reconnaissance jets that can be quickly converted into fighter jets. The move is controversial, since Merkel's government looks set to bypass the German parliament, which is responsible for determining the troops' mandate, in Afghtanistan.

For the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung, the decision to send fighter jets down South is a political one:

"The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) doesn't need aerial reconnaissance in the North, where it is essentially dealing with isolated suicide bombers. It needs reconnaissance in the south, and the Tornados are certainly not going to be identifying objects for civilian reconstruction. He who spies targets, contributes to later bombing attacks with all the consequences that go along with them, including the ominous collateral damages previously known from the war in Kosovo."

"The decision to dispatch the Tornados is not one which the military brass can or wants to make. It has to be made at the political level, and it has to be made clear that it entails a real combat mission. Although German soldiers are already firing on Afghans today, that is a matter of self-defense. So far, the German government has very actively avoided offensive actions."

"Controversy is to be expected over whether a Tornado deployment is covered by the German parliament's current Afghanistan mandate. If the government wants to send troops abroad, it needs parliament's consent. This parliamentary proviso is a German specialty in NATO, which is why German brass are often sneered at by their coalition partners, but also why German parliamentarians are often envied. It is seen as a stumbling block. But that thinking overlooks the fact that the involvement of the parliament is at least able to facilitate smart decisions. Nevertheless, the NATO request should reinvigorate this debate."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says victory in Afghanistan can only be achieved together:

"In Afghanistan, as the German ambassador recently put it, the West faces an impending 'end game.' But who knows better than the Germans that one can also disqualify from the race in the semi-finals? Thus it was good that the German government has signalled to NATO its (apparent) willingness to dispatch reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan.

"Even though half a dozen Tornados don't seem like much, they represent an effective -- and costly -- contribution. And make no mistake: it would be a combat mission. More importantly: It would eliminate the view of some that everything is going well in the north and that all the misery is in the south and east and that the Americans are responsible because of their own actions. NATO can only achieve success in Afghanistan if its partners work together."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung criticizes NATO's strategy:

"The Allied strategy of using as few ground troops as possible to eliminate the followers of the former Afghan government, as well as terrorists from within and outside of the country, has failed. The real enemies are barely weakened. Instead, the brutal aerial war has emboldened all those in the Islamic world who harbor hatred against the West. Every child killed by NATO, every bombed house just gives them more to build their case. But even those who accept this must recognize that a military victory cannot be achieved -- in part because the enemy combatants are getting reinforcements from neighboring Pakistan. NATO, on the other hand, can do relatively little about it: With good reason, it is mindful of the leaders of nuclear-armed Pakistan, which in order to preserve its own power sways back and forth between the West and the Islamists."

-- Alex Bakst, 12:30 p.m. CET