Government insists that the mission is crucial in protecting the fledgling
Afghan democracy against extremists, and hence in defending German national
security interests. German forces have been providing reconnaissance
capabilities in the country's north, operating Mazar-i-Sharif as a
transportation hub, and leading two of the five regional reconstruction teams (Stern). Annual expenditure for civilian
reconstruction alone is slated to reach 430 million Euros. Another 10 million
Euros annually are targeted exclusively at rehabilitating Taliban fighters (Tagesschau).
Institute for Economic Research estimates that the total costs for the
mission will run anywhere from 18 to 33 billion Euros if the 2011 timeline is
kept, with each additional year adding another 3 billion Euros to Germany's bill.
German forces are scheduled to begin a drawdown by mid-2011, as they gradually hand over responsibility to Afghan authorities in their sector. In preparation for this, Germany is heavily involved in the training of the Afghan National Army, with 200 police officers supporting Afghan security forces and an additional 60 police officers and experts supporting the European Union Police Mission in Aghanistan.
Critics of Germany's role in Afghanistan are adamant that the engagement is a waste of time and money. They maintain that most humanitarian aid never reaches its intended recipients. Moreover, Afghanistan still manufactures 90 percent of opium reaching world markets. With much of that money going to finance terrorism, critical voices doubt the success of the overall mission. Hans-Christian Stroebele of the Green Party claims that the security situation in the north is worse today than it was in the beginning, despite a tenfold increase in German troop strength (Stern). The Left Party is even more radical in its condemnation of Germany's role, calling for an immediate and unconditional German retreat from Afghanistan (Linke).
The announcement of a 2014 withdrawal date has reignited the debate. Reports in the German press emphasize that international agreement on the deadline owes much to the insistence of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (Welt). The conference's final communiqué mirrors a number of ideas expounded in Westerwelle's July 9 speech on Afghanistan. Westerwelle favors a political solution to the conflict and a reduction of the military's role. He also advocates programs that will reintegrate repentant Taliban into Afghan society and promote their eventual participation in the Afghan national government. Additionally, he calls on the Karzai Government to fight corruption with greater vigor. While cautioning that Afghanistan will never resemble a European state, Westerwelle believes that continued efforts to improve the situation will make Afghanistan more stable and enhance international security (Federal Foreign Office).
By contrast, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is concerned that the goals proclaimed by the Kabul conference participants are unattainable. Furthermore, he admits that German politicians painted an unrealistic picture of the situation in their official statements and misled the German public. He insists that setting a timeline for the NATO withdrawal is counterproductive. Certain preconditions should be met before there can be any talk of drawing down forces (Handelsblatt).
General Egon Ramms, commander of NATO's Joint Force Command in Brunssum, also warns of a premature withdrawal, insisting that it would reveal the psychological state of the German population to the Afghan fighters and encourage them to fight harder (Handelsblatt). Ramms maintains that measures targeted at building a more effective local administration are more important in Afghanistan today than training programs for policemen and soldiers, and more time is needed to make progress in this realm. He fears that the German public's assessment of the Afghan situation differs greatly from the reality on the ground. According to Ramms, the disinterest with which most citizens follow developments in Afghanistan is the result of Pollyannaish thinking by German politicians. For German soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, this lack of understanding of the importance of the mission is particularly bitter. This may yet develop into a major problem - not only for the military, but for German society as well (Welt).
The debate on the merit of the Afghan engagement looks set to rage on for as long as German troops remain stationed there. Even though serving in missions abroad is voluntary, the heated debates on the future of the draft in Germany and the planned troop reductions in the German Armed Forces will likely affect Germany's mission in Afghanistan as well. The online open dialogue between NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill and members of atlantic-community.org highlights these concerns. Moreover, the Atlantische Initiative in cooperation with the German daily BILD has launched an internet platform for ordinary Germans to send greetings to their men and women in uniform in Afghanistan.
Photo licence: cc by-nd Radio Nederland Wereldomroep's