On 9/12/2001, following the attack on the United States by Al Qaeda and supported by the Taliban government in Afghanistan, NATO invoked Article 5, its self-defense clause, and NATO member states attacked the country which had given safe harbor to the terrorists.
A History of Cooperation
Germany was part of that effort and has heroically, if somewhat reluctantly, joined Operation Enduring Freedom, with some 100 Special Forces hunting Bin Laden and nearly 3000 soldiers as part of ISAF. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder put the Bundeswehr in harm’s way, but they were based in the northern part of Afghanistan. The troops are used in more of a peacekeeping and nation-building capacity than as security and/or offensive war forces. Germany’s allies have taken more risks and have suffered higher casualties in the more chaotic regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Despite having it much easier than their NATO allies, 61% of Germans believe it is time to pull out of Afghanistan. This sentiment is not limited to the political left, but shared across the political spectrum: Even 55% of Christian Democrat voters want the Bundeswehr to pull out.
While Merkel is so far resisting this pressure, some of her partners in the coalition government have voiced doubts about Operation Enduring Freedom. Germans apparently believe that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, because Afghanistan has not been pacified even after almost six years of effort. Because the Taliban has become resurgent, there are also those who believe that the mere presence of Bundeswehr troops places Germany at risk for acts of terrorism.
What these people do not understand is the nature of asymmetrical warfare, and the nature of groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. These are not the set-piece battles of previous wars, when national armies took and held ground against their sworn enemies. This is a battle for both the pacification of a restless people immersed in land that has known nothing but warfare for a very long time and a war against a radical theocratic belief system that believes that, for example, killing teachers for teaching young girls to read and write is a good thing, and so is death by stoning for adultery.
Most Western people have difficulty understanding the nature of this particular enemy. The enemy’s view of the West in general, and of non-Muslim civilization in particular, is exemplified by the events in New York City, Madrid, London and now Glasgow. This should be proof enough to most reasonable human beings that the risk comes because we exist.
Americans are just becoming aware of the growing movement in Germany to pull away from Afghanistan, and they are just beginning to be angered by it. With time it will anger the United States Government as well.
The use of terror tactics in warfare is despicable and uncivilized. Those that practice it on others, such as al-Qaeda against the West, know full well that their greatest weapon is a reluctance to engage for fear of “catching” the terrorism bug on one’s own soil. If Germany cannot see a way to support the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom now, how can it expect the United States to support Germany when Germany is inevitably attacked by the same elements as have already infiltrated Madrid, London, Glasgow, and the United States?
George M. Roper is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in McAllen, Texas. Roper blogs at GM’s Corner and was a co-founder the Blog Carnival on US-German Relations. Roper was born in Germany shortly after WWII and was in Berlin on 9/11.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community
- Niels Annen argues that Germany Should Reconsider Position in Afghanistan
- Karsten Voigt argues that Withdrawing German Troops Could Destabilize Northern Afghanistan
- Executive Summary - How the EU Could Do More in Afghanistan
- Karsten Voigt declares Germany’s Open-Ended Commitment to Afghanistan