On a cool Afghan evening earlier this month, I stepped off of a transport plane to the sight of three American medical evacuation helicopters lined up neatly on the tarmac of the German-led Camp Marmal outside of Mazar-i-Sharif. These are helicopters like the ones in which American medics evacuated wounded German soldiers on Good Friday 2010 and, to me, they have come to embody the close cooperation between the 5000 Bundeswehr troops deployed in Afghanistan and their American comrades.
In the following days, I met with soldiers and officials in Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, and at the German outpost, called “OP-North.” At each stop I heard about the tremendous work that German soldiers and civilians are doing in Afghanistan.
I came away convinced that we are on the right track in Afghanistan. I know that Germany is under pressure, just as the United States is, to reduce its ISAF troop commitment in the coming year. However, in order to safeguard the good progress we have made, we must sustain the personnel and resources needed as we continue to shift security responsibilities to Afghan officials by the 2014 deadline.
A senior diplomat in Afghanistan told me, “where there is security, development will follow.” For that reason, one of the most useful things we can do in Afghanistan over the next three years of transition is to ensure enduring security in the country. And development, in turn, improves security. For example, insurgents do not place improvised explosives on paved roads. “Why?” I asked an American officer. “Because they are too valuable,” he said. Destroying a paved road would spark the wrath of the local population.
Simply put, when Afghans have a choice, they do not choose the Taliban. On the contrary, wherever we are present and active, Afghans come to our side. One German lieutenant colonel explained to me that, in advance of an ISAF push to reclaim one area, village leaders, themselves, told Taliban members living in their midst that they were no longer welcome, an encouraging sign.
Violence is also clearly reduced throughout the northern provinces. While there is still a security threat, insurgents no longer mount coordinated offensives. Instead, often targeting innocent victims, they are reduced to roadside explosives, suicide attacks, or targeted killings to draw attention to themselves and to make headlines. A German colonel told me that training the Afghan Army in Kunduz was ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, another officer told me, Afghan National Army units in neighboring Baghlan province now conduct operations on their own.
In December, representatives from around the world will meet in Bonn. Convened by the Afghan government and hosted by Germany, the Bonn Conference will lay broad plans for continued international engagement with Afghanistan.
To me, the payoff for this continued international support is already visible. Down the road from Camp Marmal there is a German-funded Teacher Training College. During a previous visit to Afghanistan I saw the college’s dormitory, which had just been built. The dormitory was more than just a part of campus infrastructure. To the students, the majority of them women, the dormitory was an important symbol, a promise for the future. It meant that they could now travel far from their villages, in safety and dignity, and dedicate themselves to studies that improve their own lives and help transform the lives of others.
Earlier this month a German development representative informed me that every one of those dormitory rooms is now occupied by an eager student studying hard to educate the next generation of Afghan youth. And it is to help secure that future that the German and American soldiers are committed, along with thousands of Afghan soldiers and police all across the country. Together, the soldiers and the students are working to rebuild Afghanistan. We owe them our respect. They deserve our support.
Philip D. Murphy is the US Ambassador to Germany.