Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Germany slips up again in Afghanistan
Germany has slipped up again in Afghanistan, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers after losing three of its own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. For a nation with little appetite for a war 3,000 miles away, the losses couldn’t come at a worse time. Germany is still feeling the repercussions of an incident in September in which its forces called in a U.S. air strike that killed scores of people, at least 30 civilians, the deadliest incident involving German forces since World War 11.
But just what is Germany up against in Kunduz? While the intensity of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand has received the most attention, the situation in the Germans part of the north has deteriorated rapidly. Soldiers earlier on could patrol in unarmored vehicles. Now there are places where they cannot move even in armored vehicles without an entire company of soldiers according to this story.
Indeed the Taliban have made a dramatic comeback in Kunduz just as they come under pressure in the south, according to this report in the Washington Post. Local officials and residents say two of the province’s districts are almost completely under Taliban control. There, girls’ schools have been closed down, women are largely prohibited from venturing outdoors unless they are covered from head to toe, and residents are forced to pay a religious “tax”, usually amounting to 10 percent of their meager wages. (You would have to wonder, again, the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban given their extreme view of women is unchanged, but that’s a separate issue at the moment).
Kunduz is also critical because a NATO supply line from Tajikistan runs through the province. In January German Chancellor Angela Merkel committed an additional 500 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 4,300 already in theatre and in February Germany’s Bundestag lower house of parliament voted to increase its troop count in Afghanistan, up to 850, which would raise its mandate for the country to a total of 5,350 soldiers. Furthermore, in recent weeks the United States military has said that at least part of the additional troops ordered by President Obama under the surge will be deployed to Kunduz.
A post on The New York Times At War blog a few months ago put things in perspective, showing just how inadequate the force size had been in northern Afghanistan. The regional command north, which Germany heads, has just 6,000 NATO soldiers, 8,000 members of the Afghan National Army and 12,000 members of the Afghan National Police, trying to control an area of more than 60,000 square miles, or roughly half the size of Germany, with 11 million inhabitants, it said.
By contrast, New York City’s 305 square miles and 8 million residents (where, incidentally, there is no insurgency and no unforgiving mountain range) has roughly 34,000 officers keeping the peace. No wonder it’s the Taliban who call the shots.
One former German army chief said merely bolstering the troop numbers in Kunduz wasn’t enough. German troops need better equipment such as a reconnaissance system to avoid incidents such as the killing of Afghan troops in friendly fire. Harald Kujat, who was the Bundeswehr’s Chief of Staff from 2000 to 2002, blasted the government for having learnt nothing from the Kunduz air strike about reconnaissance and communication systems, and said the “friendly fire” killing of six Afghan soldiers could have been avoided.