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The German Bundestag will soon decide whether to renew the three mandates that currently engage the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan: OEF, ISAF, and the Tornado surveillance mission. Will the Bundeswehr remain in Afghanistan? Will the mandates be merged? Or will cooperation be ended? All three questions have been discussed extensively on the Atlantic Community, in various articles and backgrounders. Four main points have been made:
1. OEF: Pros and Cons
Of all the mandates, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) has been questioned the most, although German participation is minimal: approximately 250 troops are stationed at the Horn of Africa, and 100 special forces are under OEF command in Afghanistan but not currently deployed.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and German MPs Ruprecht Polenz, Werner Hoyer, and Gert Weisskirchen all question whether ISAF could effectively carry out OEF’s mandate to fight the Taliban. G.M. Roper argues that pulling German troops out of OEF would send a signal of weakness to the Taliban and thereby weaken the international alliance in the fight against terror.
But German MP Niels Annen asks how long the right of self-defense should hold. SWP researcher Markus Kaim adds that OEF and ISAF have become difficult to distinguish from one another. For these reasons and more, Kerstin Müller and Norman Paech therefore called for an end to OEF at the Atlantic Initiative’s “Atlantic Happy Hour,” with Paech demanding an end to ISAF and Müller suggesting that the mandates be merged.
2. Reasons To Keep Going
Most authors agree that all three missions should be kept up in Afghanistan, but members of the Atlantic Community show dissension in their comments. Most of the American and Canadian authors point out that a decision to pull German troops out would severely damage transatlantic relations: Roper warns that the United States could turn away from Germany in times of need. And David Haglund declares that Canadians are already alienated by their ally; they are taking an outsized risk in Afghanistan, while Germany is not.
3. Civil Projects Are Key
Although policymakers point out success stories in Afghanistan—Weisskirchen, for instance, hopes for a reduced military presence once the Afghan Compact is realized in 2010—many Atlantic Community members disagree, demanding a stronger focus on social issues. As military tools can only “buy time to prepare political solutions,” in Annen’s words, commenter Hauss recommends accepting the tribal Afghan society as-is and giving Karzai the authority he needs to rule the country. Michael John Williams comments that pouring more troops in to stabilize the country cannot be the solution. As Kaim writes, the focus must lie on building up a police force through EUPOL and an Afghan National Army that are able to keep up security. Decision-makers (Annen, Müller) and commenters (Vollmer, Hauss) alike agree that stabilization is only possible in the long-term if civil concerns are also a priority.
4. German Troops in the South?
In recent months, German NATO allies and the Secretary-General himself have repeatedly asked Germany to deploy troops in other areas besides the North in order to help fight against the Taliban. In contrast to other countries, Germany is only rarely involved in combat missions, and is focused instead on reconstruction and peacekeeping. Authors Roper and Haglund both emphasize this fact, and it is probably no coincidence that both are North American.
Germany, however, has been reluctant to send troops to the South. Karsten D. Voigt, Coordinator for German-American Cooperation in the German Foreign Office, reminds readers that Germany’s role in the mission according to the mandate was to deploy troops in the North; leaving would destabilize the area. Williams comments his disagreement, asserting that the mandate, by necessity, must change according to the Afghani situation. It takes fewer troops to maintain stability in the North, because a Taliban uprising in this region is only a minor possibility. Rafael Pantucci adds that since ISAF is an allied effort, it would be irresponsible for Germany to sit in a comparatively friendly environment and wait for the mission to collapse someplace else.
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Written by Annette Poelking
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community
- Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Afghanistan: The Way Ahead
- G.M. Roper argues that Germany Belongs in Afghanistan
- Markus Kaim on Afghanistan: Expanding ISAF, Ending OEF
- Niels Annen says Germany Should Reconsider Position in Afghanistan
- David G. Haglund says Afghanistan Is Testing German-Canadian Ties
- Karsten Voigt Withdrawing German Troops Could Destabilize Northern Afghanistan