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USA Forced Germany to Take Part in NATO Combat Operations in Afghanistan

10.07.2008 17:44

Roman Shilov

On June 3, 2008 an embarkation ceremony devoted to the departure of Bundeswehr rapid response force unit to Afghanistan was held in Germany. A 200-strong German special force unit will be the first Bundeswehr combat unit in this country to defend the NATO peacekeeping force in northern Afghanistan. Earlier the functions of the German contingent were limited with participation in peaceful rehabilitation operations in this country. It is noteworthy that a decision on sending the combat unit for participation in combat activities was taken after fierce disputes in the German society opposing the expansion of the Bundeswehr's military mission in Afghanistan and especially involvement of German militaries in combat operations.

Note: Currently a 3,500-strong German contingent is the third largest military contingent in Afghanistan after the USA and Great Britain. It provides for security of infrastructure facilities under repair in northern Afghanistan and Kabul.

Let us recall that as of today the military campaign in Afghanistan launched by the United States in October 2001 within the framework of the war on terror turned to be a long-lasting tragic epic both for the Afghan people and for the North Atlantic Alliance. In 2003, the USA entrusted NATO with a mission of "establishing true democracy" in Afghanistan. At the same time the United States determined a military mission in Iraq as a priority task for itself. However, unsuccessful military operations in Afghanistan, heavy casualties among NATO "peacekeepers" and peaceful local people, increasing financial burden of military expenditures on the military campaign, lack of any clear prospect of exit out of the Afghan deadlock , made NATO partners of the USA speak about their possible withdrawal from the military operation.

This year at the Munich Conference during heated discussion on potential increase of the NATO presence in southern Afghanistan to suppress the Taliban insurgency the 26 NATO member-states hardly managed to agree upon establishment of a 25,000-strong rapid reaction force (a total strength of NATO troops exceeds 2 million people). Except the USA, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Canada other NATO states agreed to send their troops only to relatively peaceful northern areas of Afghanistan. Therefore on February 10, 2008 US Defense Secretary R, Gates said that he worries about NATO "evolving into a two-tiered alliance in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security and others who are not."

Meanwhile the concern of the USA and NATO over the Afghan problem is quite clear: according to experts - forecasts the year of 2008 is to become critical in the military campaign in this country. The Taliban combatants who became a headache of the NATO troops in southern Afghanistan successively expand their rebellious activities through the entire territory of the country using the increasing support of local people. A potential threat of conflict escalation to Pakistan compels NATO claiming for a role of a worldwide security guarantor to engage additional force to prove its efficiency. Besides. on the eve of the 60 anniversary of NATO in 2009 the Alliance needs to declare the today's success of the Organization. However the efficiency of NATO military operations in Afghanistan is very low.

The aforesaid problems of the military campaign make the White House to look for new more efficient tools to get its allies involved more actively in the NATO combat operations. An analysis of the developments confirms a conclusion about a preplanned political and information pressing of the United States on Germany to force it to send Bundeswehr combat units to Afghanistan. In so doing, the selection of Germany as the Joker in the Afghan play at least for the nearest future is not incidental. Firstly, its is one of the EU leaders that may provide a strong military continent within a short period of time to participate in the NATO combat operations. Secondly, Germany relatively painlessly may provide for financial support of its troops overseas. Thirdly, a consent of Germany to expand its military presence in NATO operations overseas would make a successful outcome of the Afghan campaign more feasible

The United States and NATO started exerting an extra heavy pressure on Germany in 2008. Initially on January 29, the Alliance leadership requested Berlin to send a rapid response unit to north Afghanistan to replace the Norwegian unit involved in combat activities. Then on February 1, US Defense Secretary R. Gates sent to his German colleague a message containing criticism and demand to provide combat troops and military equipment to fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda combatants in south Afghanistan. Similar massagers containing insistent requests of the Pentagon to send additional 3,200 militaries to south Afghanistan were forwarded to all NATO member-states. At the same time, as for the German capabilities the Pentagon expressed his confidence that the German ally is capable of increasing its contingent two-fold by this autumn up to 6,500 men and expand its area of responsibility to southern provinces of Afghanistan.

Together with the USA the Netherlands and Canada, which contingents are on duty in south Afghanistan, made efforts to "expostulate" incompliant Germany. In particular, Canada threatened to withdraw its troops next year if its requests for military support of operations within the Canadian area of responsibility, are ignored. Besides, this February NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in his interview with newspaper Bild appreciated excellent work of the German militaries in north Afghanistan whose experience in his opinion would be very useful also in other regions of the country. The NATO Secretary General stressed that "he is going to proceed with his efforts to convince certain nations involved in the ISAF mission to lift restrictions specified in their mandates as much as possible".

Such pressing on the part of the Alliance partners made Germany to face a serious problem: how to have a narrow escape from undesired expansion of Bundeswehr combat involvement in the protracted Afghan campaign. In so doing, if a decision on sending combat units were taken, the German politicians would have to convince the population of the country in the "exigence" of such step whereas the involvement of Bundeswehr in the ISAF mission in general is not strongly supported by Germans. For example, according to public surveys conducted in Germany, in November 2007 64 per cent of peaceful people spoke for immediate withdrawal of the German troops from Afghanistan. It is noteworthy that already in February 2008 the number of opponents of the Bundeswehr presence in Afghanistan increased up to 86 per cent.

Many foreign experts believe that the German leadership only postponed a decision on Bundeswehr combat involvement in operations in southern Afghanistan when this June it sent a rapid response unit to the northern provinces to replace the Norwegian contingent at the end of its tour of duty. As for "the travel' of the German combat units to south Afghanistan Berlin was reluctant. For example, German Chancellor Angele Merkel and Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung gave a firm negative response to the February US demand to enhance Bundeswehr participation in restoration of peace and order in Afghanistan.

As quoted to German Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm, "the message was a surprise for us because Ms Merkel at her negotiations with the American side reputedly pointed out that the mission and tasks of Bundeswehr in Afghanistan approved by the German Parliament are non est disputandum". The similar point of view was expressed by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who claimed that 'north Afghanistan should continue to be a home station of the Bundeswehr units".

The Pentagon's demand produced a big resonance in the public life of Germany. For example, oppositional party Union 90/Green urged the Government to resist the pressure of the NATO allies and proceed with civil projects because "only Germany will be in position to speak about its success in peaceful restoration of Afghanistan, and the USA will not have any reasons for criticism and reproach to the address of Germans". In the opinion of B. Gertz, Head of the Germany's Military Union, "the German Government should be very prudent in its decisions and in no case give its consent to redeployment of German militaries to south Afghanistan". Gertz emphasized: "We have enough business to do in the northern regions. And prior to the use of military force it is necessary to solve all political problems". Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democratic Party of Germany, was more tough to say that the demand of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer "is impudence, he is just the Secretary General of entire NATO rather than an assistant of the American Secretary of Defense".

Comments of a majority of German newspapers were similar. For example, newspaper Rein Zeitung criticized mistakes of the Pentagon in Afghanistan and in its southern provinces in particular, which are to be paid for by other partners in the Alliance. According to the newspaper, "the message sent by the Pentagon to blackmail Berlin is an example of a rude attitude to the allies". Pursuing the subject newspaper Nurenberb Zaitung wrote about "successive transformation of the Bundeswehr contingent in Afghanistan into a true combat unit, which would hardly participate only in provision of security of those who restores the state infrastructure".

Meanwhile German experts and politicians believe that in the nearest future the Bundeswehr militaries will have to be involved in combat operations against the Taliban combatants in unstable south Afghanistan as it is insistently demanded from Germany by the US and NATO military command. For example, respectful German magazine Der Spiegel published information that the German Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry are working on a project to increase the strength of the German contingent in the ISAF mission up to 4,500 men, and expand the German area of responsibility to south regions of Afghanistan. In so doing, German Foreign Minister F. Jung refused from any comment on this information and noted that currently there are only plans to extend the Bundeswehr mandate in Afghanistan.

Thus, it is possible to come to a conclusion that the efforts of the White House to push the heat on its NATO partners to compel them to enhance their military involvement in the ?unpopular? ISAF mission turned to be successful to a certain extent. In particular, Germany that this spring sent its rapid response unit to Afghanistan in spite of the public opposition, was followed by France that claimed that it is ready to send additional 800 soldiers and officers to this country. Experts believe that other NATO partners will not avoid the fate of Germany and France, in so doing the Pentagon will proceed with enhancing the NATO capabilities including at the expense of aspirants - Ukraine, Georgia and Macedonia.