Germany weighs bigger Afghan deployment but counts cost

BERLIN (AFP) – The killing of three Germans this week and the kidnapping of another three German civilians have triggered an anguished debate on the dangers and aims of Berlin’s deployment in Afghanistan.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s left-right government has said the setbacks have only strengthened its resolve and that it is even mulling sending more troops to the strife-ravaged country.

The stance is politically risky, however, with a strong majority of Germans — 64 percent — calling for withdrawal, 10 points more than two months ago, according to a poll by the independent research group Infratest in early August.

And with a vote on the mandate due in October in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, opposition parties have tried to capitalise on widespread battle fatigue over an open-ended mission.

Germany is involved in training Afghan security forces, has contributed some 3,000 troops to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force and has six Tornado reconnaissance planes helping to spot Taliban hideouts.

About 100 elite troops have a mandate to participate in the US-led anti-Taliban Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) but are not currently deployed against insurgents in the south.

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung insists that the extension of all the missions is needed.

“We need three mandates in the future so that we can set up self-supporting security in Afghanistan,” he told Friday’s Bild newspaper.

“The terrorists must not be allowed to have any success with their perfidious attacks.”

Deputy foreign minister Gernot Erler went further, saying there was a growing faction in parliament calling for a more robust German role in Afghanistan in the face of NATO demands for the country to take on responsibilities commensurate with its size.

“There is a broad consensus on the German political scene even after Wednesday’s tragedy not to let such attacks throw us off track,” he told Friday’s Berliner Zeitung, referring to a bombing in Kabul that killed two German police officers and a foreign ministry employee.

Erler said this might include German soldiers training Afghan troops in the volatile south of the country, although he acknowledged that the German public was resistant to a stronger engagement.

“We must do more to make the direct connection between security in Germany and the success of the deployment in Afghanistan clear,” he said.

In the five years since it deployed in Afghanistan after the ouster of the radical Taliban regime, Germany has lost 25 soldiers, three police officers and four civilians.

The past month has been particularly grim with the abduction of two German engineers by the Taliban, one of whom was shot to death. The other is reportedly ill and begging for his life.

And on Saturday, a German woman working for a Christian aid group was snatched by armed men in Kabul.

Each incident has proved traumatic for a country that has only in the last decade breached its postwar taboo against military deployments abroad.

Former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered “unlimited solidarity” to the United States after the suicide hijackings of September 11, 2001, staking his centre-left government on a commitment to helping stabilise Afghanistan.

But as the years have dragged on, more Germans have begun to ask why their soldiers are fighting and dying in central Asia.

The Left Party, an alliance of former communists and disaffected Social Democrats, has led calls for an immediate troop withdrawal, while the Greens and the pacifist wing of the Social Democrats, partners in governing coalition, demanded the end of the OEF mission.

“The US intervention in the south has not created more security but reinforces hatred and violence due to the number of civilian victims,” the co-leader of the Greens, Claudia Roth, said.

The left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung said that while the mandates were likely to be extended, Berlin needed to begin an honest debate on an exit strategy and its political goals for Afghanistan.

“No one who wants to be taken seriously will demand that Germany immediately withdraw but things cannot go on the way they are either,” it said in an editorial this week.

“Therefore all three mandates should be extended, but the time until next year should be used to develop a new concept with the allies that the Afghans will accept. And moderate forces currently supporting the Taliban must also be included in the peace process.”

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