Germany extends Afghan war mission
January 28, 2011
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The German parliament on Friday voted to extend the country’s “Afghanistan mandate,” leaving some 4,600 German soldiers in the war zone for at least one more year.
The two coalition parties under Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as a majority of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), voted for the measure; the Green party and the Left party voted against the mandate.
But parliament’s vote does not reflect popular opinion. Two-thirds of the German public wants its troops pulled out of the war. With 46 soldiers killed and costs estimated to be as much as 32 billion euros (nearly $45 billion) through 2011 by the German Institute for Economic Research, many Germans feel that the price being paid for the war is too high. Germany’s contingent of troops is the coalition’s third largest, after the United States and the United Kingdom.
The public has been skeptical from the start. The former minister of defense, Peter Struck, said early in the war that Germany’s freedom is also to be defended at the Hindu Kush, a statement that provoked some harsh criticism.
Analyst Hans-Georg Ehrhardt, of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Hamburg, has followed the debate closely.
“We hear at this time what we heard all the years before,” Ehrhardt said. “It is always the ‘next year’ which will be the decisive year [for the situation in Afghanistan], and this is being said even though the government itself had to realize that the situation is still critical.”
Ehrhardt referred to the German government’s “Afghanistan Progress Report,” published in December.
“One of its basic conclusions is that there was ‘an increase of security-related incidences’ over the last year,” said Ehrhardt. “In plain words: The situation has not improved.”
But some lawmakers note the accomplishments of the German army.
“The Bundeswehr (German army) has accomplished an outstanding success by training and supporting Afghan security forces,” said Elke Hoff, security political spokeswoman for the Free Democratic Party. “Just one example: The soldiers of the 209 [Afghan National Army] Corps were trained by our German soldiers. Moreover, German military police showed great efforts by instructing Afghan police.”
Quoted in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung, the Green party’s Hans-Christian Stroebele demanded an immediate change of strategy in Afghanistan. Stroebele, a vocal opponent of the war, noted that the outgoing U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, wrote in an opinion piece quoted by The Associated Press that the “clear, hold, build strategy” was transformed into a “clear and clear again practice.”
“This means,” Stroebele said, “the regions will not be held and built-up but simply will just be cleared over and over again.”
Stroebele said a continuation of the war “is irresponsible.” He advocates an immediate halt to military operations and proposes peace talks.
Germany, like the U.S., plans a gradual withdrawal of its troops starting this year and to be completed by 2014.