The German government is considering exiting the United States-led anti-terror operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and has already sent out feelers in Washington about the issue. The German parliament's mandate for the military, which expires this autumn -- almost around the same time as the mandate for Germany's ISAF peacekpeeing troops -- stipulates that up to 100 soldiers from the Bundeswehr's KSK elite force can be deployed in hard-fought areas like southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Government sources in Berlin say that Washington is expected to demand greater German role in southern Afghanistan in exchange for any KSK pullout.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asked Germany to send a combat group for "special operations" to operate under the auspices of NATO -- a demand that German Defense Minister Josef Jung of the conservative Christian Democrats rejected. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrats (CDU) lead Germany's "grand coalition" government with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) -- a party whose reservations about the anti-terror mission are considerable.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, along with CDU and SPD floor leaders Volker Kauder and Peter Struck, plan to meet this week to discuss how the Afghanistan mandate could be extended past Germany's 2009 general election.
Could Relief Workers Replace Soldiers?
Also at issue is information leaked to the press last week that Germany was considering upping the Isaf contingent, currently limited to 3,500, to 4,500 in response to pressure to take on a significant combat role in Afghanistan. Jung has denied the reports.
For his part, the defense minister wants to find a way to adhere to the upper ceiling -- at least formally. In order to avoid having to ask the German parliament, the Bundestag, for more soldiers as soon as March, he is seeking the support of German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the CDU.
A team of experts at THW, Germany's federal disaster relief agency -- which falls under the interior minister's portfolio -- are currently studying areas of responsibility in Afghanistan that the agency could assume from the Bundeswehr. The German military would like to see the agency replace soldiers in areas like firefighting, for example.
The Bundeswehr currently has 3,310 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. But Jung wants to strengthen Germany's force in Kunduz by 200 soldiers in order to service new radar equipment and transmitters that can jam remote-control bomb detonators. In addition, Germany plans to send 200 soldiers to replace a departing Norwegian Quick Reaction Force.
Berlin is looking for all sorts of creative ways to reduce the number of soldiers technically deployed in Afghanistan while at the same time preserving the services it offers. One proposal foresees the privatization of food services for the soldiers as well as the employment of local Afghan workers to cover everyday tasks at German bases.
Kissinger Criticizes Germany, Police to Get Additional Training
Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has joined the chorus of Americans calling for Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan. In a SPIEGEL interview, he massively criticized Germany's position in the War on Terror. Kissinger even went so far as to question whether Germany should be a full member in NATO. "In the long run," he said, "we cannot have two categories of members in the NATO alliance: Those that are willing to fight and others that are trying to be members a la carte."
As part of the NATO alliance, Kissinger said Germans also needed to be prepared to enter into the war. "We need more German and NATO troops in Afghanistan," Kissinger said. "What I am not comfortable with is that some NATO members send troops primarily for non-combat missions. That cannot be a healthy situation in the long term."
Kissinger also argued that Germany's troublesome history could no longer be used as an excuse for German reserve in participating in NATO missions. "I understand it," he said, "but it is not a sustainable position." Politically, he warned, the position would lead to Germany being isolated from its allies. "If they stick to that attitude, Germany would be a different kind of nation than Britian or France or others."
In addition to discussions of the future of the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan, the government is also expected to make significant changes to the deployment of German police in the country. Following the death of three German police officers in August, SPIEGEL has learned that the federal government in Berlin will now require police officers to participate in an eight day, 44-hour course at a federal police academy before being deployed to Afghanistan.
The course curriculum includes such topics as "how to respond during a kidnapping situation," "driver training with an armored truck," as well as "coping with realistic attack scenarios."
The government previously offered such courses, but they were dropped in 2002 at a time when the situation in Afghanistan seemed on course to normalize after 20 years of civil war and Taliban rule. With a massive Taliban insurgency in parts of the country, the situation has changed. And at a meeting of state interior ministers and their federal counterpart in December, officials concluded that German police also needed to be better equipped for their Afghanistan missions. They issued recommendations that they should be given partially armored vehicles, equipment for jamming remote-control bomb detonators, GPS equipment as well as automatic rifles.
Germany's Federal Criminal Police (BKA) is also considering building a team of specially trained police body guards who would provide security for German officials -- diplomatic personnel, for example -- in crisis zones abroad. Federal Interior Ministry officials said those plans are currently under consideration.
80 Killed in Weekend Suicide Bombing
Such discussions will likely be intensified following one of the worst suicide attacks seen since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. On Sunday, a suicide bomber near the southern city of Kandahar detonated a bomb in the middle of a large crowd who had gathered to watch dog-fighting matches. According to Afghan officials, more than 80 people died in the bombing and at least 40 more were injured.