SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Germany's Top Officer in Kabul 'Afghanistan Will Be a Better Place in 20 Years'

Weak government, poor infrastructure, a wretched security situation: The highest-ranking German officer at ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Major Gen. Bruno Kasdorf, told SPIEGEL ONLINE he wants to see more troops, more reconstruction workers and a lot more patience in Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many Germans would prefer it if Germany withdrew from the US-led military Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and only participated in the country's reconstruction. Above all they want to send a signal that they are against the war. What does that mean for the ISAF mission?

Kasdorf: OEF is still an important extension of the ISAF mission, and it would be difficult to separate the two. Were the OEF no longer here, we would lack much needed forces, and not only in the war on terror. American OEF soldiers also train the Afghan army and police. ISAF is far from being in any position to assume all these duties.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: From the outside, it often looks as if the aggressive waging of this war is further enflaming the insurgency.

Kasdorf: I repeat: Pulling out of OEF would not be helpful. It bothers the Americans when Europeans accuse them of waging the war in a brutal fashion. If there were no OEF, the insurgency would gain strength in the country and they would consider themselves unopposed here, which could also threaten ISAF's success. Here at ISAF we don't have the forces to go after the extremists alone. At the same time, fighting terror is not our mandate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Germans have announced that they will get more involved with building up the security forces. At the same time, however, they absolutely refuse to send their soldiers into the contested south. But international instructors working with the Afghan national army regularly go with their battalions on military missions even after the training is finished. Is that an irresolvable dilemma?

Kasdorf: The limitations that the Germans have placed upon themselves are not regarded as optimal here. If a country takes over reconstruction responsibilities, its teams can, in an emergency, be replaced by reserve units if the Afghans go into battle. That's what we're really talking about here. When all the countries on a mission go into conflict areas and then a few of them say that they're only going to do something very specific, it becomes difficult. We must realize that the rest of Afghanistan, including the north, will only be safe when we have succeeded in the east and south.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The flag at the ISAF headquarters is flown at half-mast almost every day because NATO soldiers die while on deployment. At the same time, dozens of Taliban militants are killed almost every day, including high-ranking Taliban leaders such as, most recently, the man known as Mullah Brother who was a member of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar's immediate circle. How strong is today's Taliban?

Kasdorf: Their hierarchies have suffered a lot. Many of their leaders have been killed, which has thoroughly weakened the Taliban. It's not so easy to replace leaders, as they also require a certain charisma. But we always need to view what we've achieved in a larger context. We are not only threatened by extremism and the Taliban. The really decisive issue in this country is the degree of security that will allow the government to make progress, to secure its authority and to make reconstruction visible.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ordinary people here complain that they are not safe even six years after the fall of the Taliban and that standards of living have not noticeably improved. In particular, the police forces are in a miserable condition and corrupt from top to bottom.

Kasdorf: The citizens must be able to identify with their own officials and security forces. If that doesn't happen, then nothing works. Positions must finally be filled based on ability rather than on relations or who pays the most. That is unfortunately the way it is here.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where do you still get your optimism from?

Kasdorf: Much has really already been achieved. Seven million children are going to school; there are 10 universities; and 11,000 kilometers of roads have been built. Perhaps the farmer out in the provinces doesn't see that, but at some point in the future the positive results of this development will touch him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the moment, there are 40,000 ISAF troops deployed in Afghanistan. You are calling, however, for more troops, although up to this point there has been no visible improvement resulting from more military reinforcements.

Kasdorf: We really do need more forces in order to secure and hold on to areas. That's just one part, though. At least as important are arms, air transport, reconnaissance and, above all, the deployment of specialists. We need a lot more development professionals, advisors and police. I am sure that Afghanistan will be a better place in 20 years. But all of us -- including the Germans -- must think about what we want in Afghanistan, what interests we have here and whether we are ready to deploy the necessary resources.

Interview by Susanne Koelbl


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