Don’t mention the war - Germany’s Afghanistan tabooSeptember 24th, 2009 - 9:27 am ICT by IANS
By Jeff Black
Berlin, Sep 24 (DPA) When Colonel Georg Klein sealed the order for two American F-15 fighter-bombers to strike at a Taliban fuel-tanker convoy in Kunduz Sep 4, he probably had no idea he was also about to ignite the German election campaign.
The attack, which incinerated the tankers and killed up to 99 Afghans - including some 30 civilians, according to Afghan government reports - brought the reality of German participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan precisely where the political leaders didn’t want it: in the public eye.
In other European countries, participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is hard enough to explain to the voters: it is far away, the threat is obscure, and the soldiers just keep coming home in body-bags.
The war is unpopular in Britain, which has the second-largest contingent there after the Americans. It is unpopular in the Netherlands, which has already said it is pulling its troops out by 2010. But Germany is not a “normal” European country. Seventy years after the beginning of the Second World War, the subject of Germany’s Bundeswehr (military) still raises hackles amongst a population permanently and deliberately shamed by its Nazi past.
“In the Afghan war, the problem for the German public is not so much German casualties, but that German soldiers are killing, and killing civilians,” says Markus Kaim, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Studies in Berlin.
The subject of the German military is so sensitive that the country has only just this month finally inaugurated its first memorial to soldiers that have died in service since the end of WWII. This is why, in the official narration of Germany’s war in Afghanistan, in which it has invested some 4,500 troops, the war isn’t even a war. It’s a “robust stabilisation mission”, in the formulation of the ministry of defence.
Top politicians also sugar the pill heavily, with much greater emphasis on the humanitarian duties carried out by the army and development agencies in its area of command (Kunduz) than the rapidly escalating need to defeat the Taliban.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, top challenger to Angela Merkel, insists that the Bundeswehr is in Afghanistan because the minute they would leave “the women would go back in the cellar, the girls would stop going back to school, and the farmers would be straight back to growing drugs”.
The spectre of terrorism in European capitals is also never far away as a justification for the Afghan mission.
But these efforts to sell the war to the German public, on altruistic or self-interested grounds, are failing, and even more so after the Kunduz airstrike. A majority of the public (58 percent, according to a Sep 11 opinion poll published by ZDF, a public broadcaster) think that the mission there should not be extended.
Only the hard-left Die Linke (The Left) party are calling for immediate German withdrawal, however.
In advance of the Sep 27 election, the talk from Chancellor Angela Merkel and others has been of “concrete withdrawal plans” and other ways of saying that Germany is heading for the door. “We are now in a transfer phase. We have to complete the training of (Afghan) security forces as quickly as possible,” Merkel said in the televised “Chancellor Duel” with Steinmeier Sep 13.
Steinmeier himself has said Germany should try to be out of the country by 2013, despite the suggestion by Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung in August that the Bundeswehr could be in Afghanistan for another ten years.
In some ways, the German government is caught between a rock and a hard place - pressure from Washington and other NATO partners to increase troop numbers and public antipathy to the conflict.
The German government likely hopes it can squeeze through an extension of the Afghanistan mandate given by the parliament, which runs out Dec 13.
But that process is going to be a much tougher sell than in previous years, because of the outrage amongst the public and because of the fact that Germany is likely to be asked by NATO for more troops as other allies leave.
“It’s not just going to be a simple parliamentary rubber-stamp,” says Kaim.
Alongside the Netherlands, Canada has said it will leave Afghanistan regardless of the situation there, in 2011. New NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he expects more from alliance members.
This may well leave the new German government, whatever combination of colours it might be, having to justify taking the country deeper into a war that it clearly does not want.
- NATO chief seeks troops for Afghanistan amid German crisis (Lead) - Nov 27, 2009
- Germany unsure of Afghan withdrawal in 2014: Merkel - Mar 12, 2012
- Top German army officer resigns over Afghan civilian bombing - Nov 26, 2009
- Obama, Merkel ask Gaddafi to step down - Jun 08, 2011
- Germany to give $190 mn to Afghanistan after 2014 - May 17, 2012
- Al Qaeda video threatens Germans ahead of polls - Sep 19, 2009
- Training halted for Afghan police recruits - Sep 02, 2012
- Germany deploys tanks in largest Afghan offensive to date - Jul 22, 2009
- Bonn conference stresses on rebuilding Afghanistan - Dec 05, 2011
- Last survivor of plot to kill Hitler terms German military 'gentle' - Mar 06, 2011
- NATO on course for planned Afghan withdrawal: Merkel - May 05, 2012
- Germany, Britain announce meeting on Afghanistan's future - Sep 07, 2009
- Pakistani envoy in Germany to attend Bonn meet? - Dec 02, 2011
- Germany asks Pakistan to attend Bonn conference - Dec 01, 2011
- Militant ambush in Afghanistan kills three German soldiers - Apr 03, 2010
Tags: afghan government, afghan war, end of wwii, fighter bombers, fuel tanker, georg klein, german election, german institute, german military, german participation, german public, german soldiers, hackles, international security assistance, kaim, nato mission, second world war, sugar the pill, war germany, war in afghanistan