Should Germany leave Afghanistan? Is that the lesson of the recent airstrike in Kunduz? Not so fast. The incident near the city of Kunduz just happened to be the first since McChrystal's new counterinsurgency guidelines came out. But it had certainly better not be repeated. At this point, it remains to be seen if no similar tragedies occur in the future, as a result of similar decisions by American and other allied troops there. Incidents like this happened on numerous occasions in the past, and they may happen in the future - and who knows what the more distant future might hold if some of the influential pundits eventually get their way and have Afghanistan policy return "off-shore:" to relying on counterterrorism by bombs and missiles.
It is certainly a case for everyone to draw lessons from.
A stated purpose of bombing the stolen fuel tankers was to deny insurgents the opportunity to use them in an attack on the German base in Kunduz. For this, damaging the vehicles was required. But, for example, why not have rather a show-of-force flown over the target first, to clear the area of people? How is word from an informer, who reportedly needed to give a matching description of the scene to let the tactical operations center ascertain his presence near the site, reliable enough to prefer straight-off dropping a bomb in the middle of a very large group of people?
That this is enemy-centricity, is something even those not familiar with COINspeak may sense immediately.
Some more historical illustration: when US and British aircraft were flying sorties over the Iraqi No-Fly-Zones in the 1990s, they regularly had to bomb air defence sites deliberately set up in urban areas by Saddam Hussein's regime. Then also, it became imperative to avoid civilian casualties. Concrete-filled bombs came to be used therefore. A simple idea, which already could have reduced civilian casualties in Afghanistan, too, at times.
For this, one needs to go beyond hoping for mass kills against insurgents, and only go for so much destruction as can be safely expected to work for the larger political objectives, based on actually available information.
The Kunduz airstrike may be an as-yet premature example of an otherwise more general problem with Germany and other countries that have troops deployed in the relatively safer west and north of Afghanistan, namely that while in terms of doctrine the US is already following Approach 3.0, these countries are just going through the motions in pursuit of Approach 1.0 - and it would take something better than Approach 3.0 at least to win at this point. Euro-discourse often derides Americans for not recognizing "complexity" around them. The opposite is true in Afghanistan. The European countries present in the north are not particularly interested in learning a lot about the social context they are operating in, and they are generally slow to adapt to changes in their area of operations.
The essence of their policy is to survive the mission, not investing a lot in figuring out ways to make it work. But this alienation from the mission by governments, ministries and militaries alike may just continue to push up the price of something that one may have to pay for, or keep on paying for, anyway.
Being there and going through the motions is certainly insufficient in countering the spread of the insurgency, carefully orchestrated from safe havens well away from Kunduz, but in need of local agents and a wider constituency.
Germany's northern undertaking, once thought of as proportionally contributing to NATO's post-conflict peace-building effort, mainly by troops' mere presence on the ground, is now more aptly described as pre-conflict, and in places already in-conflict, peace-building - if such a term makes sense at all. But one could as well call it counterinsurgency. Importantly, it is a term that has an advantage over simply concluding that one is at war, as opposed to peace: it says more about what is needed in response.
Péter Marton is currently a research fellow of the Corvinus University of Budapest. He blogs about Afghanistan at http://statefailure.blogspot.com.