German army union against extending Afghan mission

BERLIN – Boosting the number of German troops in Afghanistan and shifting them to the violent south makes no strategic sense and would stretch military equipment to the limit, the main association for German soldiers said.

NATO partners, and Washington in particular, have put increasing pressure on Berlin to shoulder more of the burden in dangerous southern parts of Afghanistan, where NATO troops are fighting a fierce Taliban insurgency.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out a deployment to the south and reiterated that a parliamentary mandate only allows the country to send up to 3,500 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of NATO’s 43,000 strong mission, German media have said she could send more troops.

“There are no plans for that,” said Bernhard Gertz, the head of the Bundeswehrverband, the army’s quasi trade union, which represents some 65 percent of German soldiers.

Gertz said reinforcing German troops, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Berlin to do in a letter recently, would cause problems.

“We are clearly reaching capacity limits, but not in terms of training or the number of available soldiers. We have problems, bottlenecks, with helicopters, with televisor links,” he told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. “We are light years behind the equipment of our allies.”

Many Germans are uncomfortable about the emergence of a strong army in a country still trying to come to terms with its Nazi past.

Gertz said Germany had only 19 specially equipped CH53 transport helicopters, with 6 of them being stationed in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif and others undergoing modernization or being used for training purposes at home.

“Ironically, Gates in his letter… asked for (helicopters). He should know that we’re not only touching limits but that we simply don’t have any more,” Gertz said.

BOLSTER POLICE AND JUSTICE

Gertz also disputed whether shifting Germany’s mission to the south from the north would make strategic sense.

“I can’t imagine a classic German contribution to combat activity against the Taliban in the south because I think it would not add to stability and security,” he said.

Rather than sending German soldiers to the violent south, NATO partners should focus on strengthening Afghan institutions such as police, justice and administration, he said, repeating a line often used by the government.

“We can only give this country a self-sustained security structure if we help Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the government to build these organs that exercise state power.

“On this, the international community is light years behind target. The actual deficit is in this, not in troop numbers.”

Gertz said strengthening institutions in other regions of Afghanistan was set to have an impact on the south.

“If people in the south see that other regions are advancing significantly, they will ask themselves the question who they want to fight with for a better existence, and whether they should not rather support the government,” he said.

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