The German government has surged ahead by offering concrete troop numbers for the ISAF successor mission to begin in January 2015. What is sold as taking the lead is mainly dictated by domestic considerations (general elections in September) and the urge to stay in the comparatively calm north of Afghanistan to avoid casualties. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig says that although Berlin is insisting that its Afghanistan mission has been refocused on diplomacy and development, the government keeps talking about troops and troop numbers and had nothing new to offer on these fields.
As the first major ISAF contributor, Germany has presented figures for its possible contribution for the ISAF successor operation ‘Resolute Support’, scheduled to begin on 1 January 2015. In a conference in Berlin on Thursday (18 April), Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière took the lead in announcing that the German government offers ‘approximately 600 to 800 soldiers’ for ‘advisory, training and support tasks’ for ‘approximately’ two years, 2015/16. The deployment would follow a ‘spoke wheel model’, with Germany concentrating on Kabul (the ‘hub’) and the ‘northern spoke’, offering to continue working as the lead nation in the Afghan north, as it is currently in the ISAF Regional Command (RC) North. After 2016, the German contingent would decrease to 200 to 300 soldiers, based exclusively in Kabul. The announcement came after a meeting of the cabinet’s ‘Afghanistan round’, chaired by Chancellor Angela Merkel and kept secret before the announcement.
The offer, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added, was a ‘framework’ and would be open for the upcoming ‘wave of international consultations’ among the governments contributing to ISAF and, significantly, subject to a final decision by the German government and parliament after the general elections this September. Furthermore, de Maizière emphasised that Germany would not participate in the new mission without a ‘formal invitation by the Afghan government – we want to be welcome –, a resolution by the UN Security Council, a bilateral status-of-forces agreement, a conducive security situation [and] that the spoke wheel model actually comes into effect’, with other allies providing troops for other parts of Afghanistan.
The Minister also called the offer ‘adequate’, saying that NATO was discussing a ‘planning corridor’ of a total of 8,000 to 12,000 troops for the post-2014 mission. He did not mention, however, that there are other options on the table. General James Mattis, the commander of the US forces’ Central Command until recently, said in a testimony to Congress this week that he backed a recommendation of leaving 13,600 US troops in Afghanistan after 2014. On a widely assumed 2-to-1-ratio, that would mean around 6,500 to 7,000 non-US troops after 2014. Similar figures were reportedly brought into the discussion some days ago by Gen Joseph Dunford, the double-hatted commander of the US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, with around 13,000 US troops and 7,000 from other countries. These figures, though, were not in US media reports of the same event (see here, for example).
Minister de Maizière added that this German ‘declaration of intent’ is meant to encourage other allies to follow, mainly those who already are already cooperating with the Germans in RC North. The German troops are to cover ‘capabilities for our own and other nations’ soldiers, think about logistics, medical services, transport, force protection and, in case of need, evacuation’. It will be a ‘no combat mission’. He and his cabinet colleague, Foreign Minister Westerwelle, are already scheduled to hold talks about this in the coming week with European partners in Brussels and Luxemburg.
Prior to Germany’s offer, only the UK and Australia had hinted that they might contribute Special Forces after 2014. However, those will likely be part of a mission separate from ‘Resolute Support’ and follow the initial post-2001 model with ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Georgia, which aspires to become a NATO member, has also announced it will keep its contingent in Afghanistan.
Bloggers are already speculating about what the announcement means in terms of actual personnel. According to one of them, the German government is likely to send staff personnel to the new operation’s headquarters in Kabul and to the regional HQ in Mazar-e Sharif, and continue to focus on the Sapper School in Mazar and the Logistical School in Kabul that Germany built for the Afghan National Army. They might also send staff for a joint ‘Operational Coordination Center, Provincial’ (OCCP) with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and keep a so-called Operational Mentor Liaison Team (OMLT) for the northern region, now ISAF RC North. If this is correct, and it sounds as if it may be, German soldiers will mainly sit in headquarters and give lectures in military academies.
The German announcement is mainly motivated by domestic politics, but also by tactical deployment considerations with respect to Afghanistan. Domestically, this is because the governing coalition wants to avoid having the Afghanistan mission become an issue in the upcoming electoral campaign. (However, this is very unlikely. There is an almost all-party coalition backing the mission, although with more and more MPs dissenting. The Left party, the only one not part of the consensus, had already been unable to trigger a real debate of the issue during the previous campaign on its own.)
In Afghanistan, Germany tries to repeat its ‘first come, first served’ attitude that was already successfully used when ISAF was extended beyond Kabul for the first time in late 2003. Then, Germany grabbed Kunduz as the position for its Provincial Reconstruction Team, the first one under ISAF and not OEF. Kunduz then was considered to be part of the ‘calm’ north of Afghanistan and is logistically comfortably placed just at the border with Central Asia, not far from its main logistics hub in the Uzbek border town of Termez. The German PRT was ridiculed as the ‘Kunduz Spa’ (Bad Kunduz, in German) as well as by ‘dry’ allies angered (and maybe also jealous) about the ‘two beer can rule’, the amount each German soldier was entitled to daily.
This location was also tailored to avoid losses, which is, of course, legitimate. 52 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the mission started, and, for the first time in 2012, there were no Germans killed during a year, wrongly hailed by some MPs and high-ranking brass as a sign of an improving security situation and even a ‘turnaround’ in the Afghan north. (The German government had to admit earlier this year that its optimistic picture of the situation needs to be corrected because security incidents have been underreported by 10 per cent for the years 2010 to 2012 due to inconsistent Afghan government reporting. Read more about this here, in German.)
On the other hand, it looks as if Germany wants to have its allies doing the more difficult jobs again. At the press conference, de Maizière also stated that the German contribution offer was dependent on whether ‘our allies take responsibility in the South, East and West spokes and provide sufficient forces’ for those more volatile regions. In the end, he does not seem to be too convinced about his own assessment at the beginning of the same statement on Thursday – that the ANSF ‘will be able to do it’ at the end of 2014. So, the Ostseezeitung, a small local newspaper is probably closer to the truth when it commented that the German government was ‘securing for itself a tactical advantage for the negotiations about how troop contingents would really look in the end’ – than the influential magazine Der Spiegel (link above) that found de Maizière’s announcement simply ‘courageous’.
The actual scandal about the way the German government chose to present its announcement is that it again focussed on the military part of the mission and on troop numbers exclusively. The Defence Minister spoke first, and the Foreign Minister did not contribute more than verbiage about how ‘we will stand by the Afghans’. (The TV channel broadcasting the event live cut him off before he even started to speak; many German media outlets, too, are only interested in ‘our’ soldiers when it comes to Afghanistan.) The latter said nothing concrete about what Germany will do politically after 2014 – for example, what Germany could contribute so that an atmosphere is created for meaningful peace talks that are genuinely inclusive and go beyond the ubiquitous talks about talks with the Taleban, which were stalled in 2012 – another lost year –, have not resumed so far and are very unlike to lead to a broadly acceptable outcome before 2014 anyway.
The Development Minister – whose ministry is supposed to be a pillar of the country’s post-2014 engagement (Germany has promised to keep aid at the current level) – was even not present. And no word was said about possible police training. This seems to be off the table. Even before the wave of green-on-blue killings, German federated states (the ‘Länder’) had great difficulties finding a sufficient number of volunteers.
(1) An audio file of the press conference can be found on this blog (in German).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020