A New Strategy for Peace

Does it still make sense and is it still necessary to deploy German troops in Afghanistan? Can it be shown that they are contributing to bringing about peace and stability in the country? Andreas Zumach takes a look at these questions

German soldiers, part of the International Security Assistance force (ISAF) stand guard during the opening ceremony of a German-funded medical center project in the Deh Sabz district of Kabul, February 2007 (photo: AP)
The German Armed Forces Association as well as representatives of almost all the political parties are asking the government for a "new strategy for Afghanistan"

​​The main task of the German army's contingent in the ISAF force in Northern Afghanistan is to provide security and support for rebuilding efforts. Seen on its own, the mission has so far been largely successful and ought to continue to be useful. This is in spite of the justified criticism by several aid organisations of two things:

Firstly the behaviour of individual German army units in the region, and secondly the fact that the "civil-military cooperation" which has been so highly praised by the Defence Ministry has often turned out to be dominated to a worrying extent by the military.


Unfortunately it is no longer possible to judge the success or failure of the German army contribution to the ISAF force in Northern Afghanistan in isolation. From the start of the mission, it was an illusion to believe that the Afghan civilian population would be able to make a clear distinction between those foreign soldiers who were involved in securing the country's reconstruction and those foreign soldiers who were engaged in open war against the Taliban and other forces.

In the early years, when it was only US special troops and, at one point, some hundred soldiers of the German special forces, the KSK, who were involved in fighting "Operation Enduring Freedom," (OEF), it might have been possible to maintain the illusion.

But at least since the establishment last year of a joint NATO command for ISAF and OEF, and since the escalation and expansion of the war between NATO soldiers and the Taliban in the South and the East of Afghanistan, this illusion can no longer be upheld, especially since the NATO-led troops fighting the Taliban have to answer for an increasing number of victims among the civilian population.

Distinctions blurred

It was thus to be expected that the loss and desperation which Afghans feel as a result of the civilian casualties would also lead to negative feelings towards the foreign soldiers who were not directly involved in the fighting. And by sending Tornado fighters to Afghanistan to support the fighting in the South and East, the German government has made it even more difficult for the Afghan people to tell the difference between one kind of foreign soldier and another.

Germany's battalion 373 on patrol in Kabul (photo: AP)
Friend or foe? For Afghans, it is difficult to differentiate between ISAF troops and "Operation Enduring Freedom" fighters

​​It was also to be expected that the Taliban would extend its military operations to the North of the country, and that it would also attack the German soldiers stationed there. The death of the three German soldiers on May 19th was only a consistent development of the situation.

The Taliban, who are usually no match for NATO troops in open military engagements, have now announced an "Operation Ambush," involving suicide attacks and bombings throughout the country.

Under these circumstances, should the German government and parliament simply decide to extend the existing mandate for German participation in both ISAF and Enduring Freedom, there are certain to be far more dead and injured German soldiers, and the successes of the German ISAF units in the North of Afghanistan will have been in vain. Extending the existing mandate is the policy of both the Christian Democrats and the leadership of the Social Democrats in the German parliament.

However, government and parliament should instead cancel the OEF mandate altogether, withdraw the Tornados, and make the extension of the ISAF mandate dependent on an end to the involvement of NATO countries in the fighting.

Corrupted by the drugs trade

But a change in the military mandate alone is not in itself enough to bring about a new strategy. That is what is needed if the Afghanistan mission which was resolved by the international community in Bonn in Autumn 2001 is to have a chance of success.

"The greatest cancer in Afghanistan is the planting and sale of drugs," said the then NATO supreme commander, US General James Jones, at the NATO summit in Riga last November. If the governments of the NATO countries "don't finally deal seriously" with the drug problem, he said, "NATO will lose the war in Afghanistan."

The Taliban and other forces who have no interest in the stabilisation of the country are able to buy as much weaponry and ammunition and as many suicide bombers and mercenaries as they want with money from the drugs trade.

And the central government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul, whose members and whose civil servants are also largely corrupted by the drugs trade, is scarcely in a position to be able to radiate stability throughout the country. Six years ago in Bonn, this was seen as a central precondition for the long term stabilisation of Afghanistan.

Andreas Zumach

© 2007

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

Based in Geneva, Andreas Zumach is the international correspondent of the Berlin daily "tageszeitung". His main focus is security issues, arms control and multilateral institutions.

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