Germany’s War Record: Afghanistan

Nearly 15 years ago, NATO launched its war on Afghanistan. Under the occupation – with Germany playing a significant role – the economic and social conditions of the country are disastrous and the security situation, desolate. Since 2001, more than 220,000 people have been killed in the war, either as direct victims of combat or indirectly, according to a comprehensive analysis. The security situation in the country has “dramatically deteriorated,” affirms the German Bundestag’s Defense Commissioner. Today, soldiers must be flown by helicopter from one base to another, because use of the roads is too dangerous, even for armored vehicles. According to the United Nations, the number of refugees has reached 1.1 million, tendency rising. Opium cultivation is still Afghanistan’s largest economic sector. By national standards, 39.1 percent of the Afghans are living below the poverty line; 2.7 million are undernourished. The Bundeswehr, however, detects a positive development and recommends “patience and endurance.” (This is part 2 of a german-foreign-policy.com series, reporting on consequences of German military interventions over the past two decades, in light of the German government’s announcement of plans to increase its “global” – including military – interventions.)
Supporting Insurgency
The German Bundeswehr can look back on a more than 30-year history of intervention in Afghanistan. German soldiers and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) had already been involved in the Afghanistan war in the 1980s – at the time, unlike today, on the side of the insurgents. In the late 1970s, insurgency against the Afghan government’s modernization efforts had begun to destabilize the country. Since mid-1979, the Federal Republic of Germany assisted the USA in supporting the ultra-conservative – and in some cases jihadist – Mujahidin fighting the pro-Soviet government in Kabul. In late 1979, the Soviet Union sent in troops to support the Afghan government. During this proxy war, individual Bundeswehr soldiers – officially on leave – aided the Mujahidin, for example as medics. Various “Soldiers of God,” as they were called at the time, were trained by the BND or the German border police’s special counter-terrorism unit, GSG 9. The BND provided winter clothing, night vision instruments, and mine detectors. Several German intelligence services were providing the insurgents with intelligence information, particularly on Afghan and Soviet troop movements. Some German soldiers from elite units had allegedly accompanied Mujahidin through the Afghan mountains and were even occasionally making “enemy contact,” according to a participant of Bundeswehr operations at the time.[1] Officially these German activities served to “liberate” Afghanistan from communism. However, at the end of the 1980s the devastated country – devastated also with the help of German soldiers and agents – was largely abandoned to its fate.
Fighting Insurgency
By the 1990s, the Federal Republic of Germany was no longer interested in Afghanistan. For the NATO countries, Afghanistan lost its strategic importance, once Soviet troops had withdrawn and the pro-Moscow government had collapsed. The deplorable conditions left throughout the country helped facilitate the Taliban’s takeover. For many Afghans, the Taliban’s reign seemed a less brutal alternative to that of the Mujahidin. Only after September 11, 2001, was German interest in Afghanistan rekindled, when that country returned into the focus of western powers, because of the murderous terror by a jihadist group now calling itself “al Qaeda” – the same jihadists NATO countries collaborated with in the 1980s against Soviet troops.[2] Berlin again participated quite conspicuously, not only in the occupation of the country, but also in the efforts to firmly bind Afghanistan to the West. This is why Germany had organized in Bonn in late 2001, the international “Petersberg Conference” and succeeding it, the following year, with the Afghan Loya Jirga (“Grand Assembly”) in Kabul. However, no extensive initiatives on the part of the occupation forces have appeased the growing anger in the country, which, only a few years later, had led to a fierce insurgency against western troops. Afghanistan has been engulfed by a war of occupation.
War of Attrition
Following 15 years of western occupation, the country is now in a deplorable condition. The war continues and even is escalated repeatedly. A comprehensive analysis calculated that more than 22,000 had been killed by last year, either as victims of direct combat or indirectly,[3] with 80,000 deaths in neighboring Pakistan. The fighting has forced an additional 1.1 million Afghans to flee. There is no end in sight. On the contrary, according to a report, Afghan forces in Kunduz, formerly the Bundeswehr’s key region of responsibility, find themselves engaged – under the instruction of German soldiers – in a “war of attrition.”[4] In the first semester of 2016, alone, 1,601 civilians were killed either in combat situations or through terrorist attacks; another 3,565 have been injured. The Defense Commissioner of the German Parliament, Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD), speaks of a serious escalation of the situation, “the country’s security situation has deteriorated dramatically.”[5] Today, soldiers must be flown by helicopter from one base to another, because use of the roads is too dangerous, even for armored vehicles. Even aid workers, it is reported, rarely venture outside their high security offices at the sites of their projects. Because the costs for the necessary security measures have risen so exorbitantly, the question is being raised, whether to cease sending western personnel.[6]
Hunger and Poverty
Afghanistan’s socio-economic situation is at least as devastating. The country’s economy is in tatters; financially, the country is highly dependent on foreign aid. There is hardly any independent production. In 2014, Afghanistan’s imports amounted to US $7.7 billion, while its exports a mere $571 million. Because of the catastrophic situation, foreign companies are showing little interest. A total of US $54 million in investments were registered in all of 2014. “More than four-fifths of the economy takes place in the context of political insecurity and a lack of rule of law in the informal sector,” reported the foreign business agency Germany Trade and Invest (gtai), last year, in which “the cultivation of opium poppy for opium and heroin” is by far the “most important factor of the Afghan parallel economy.”[7] According to statistics provided by the Asian Development Bank, 39.1 percent of all Afghans live below the official poverty line. Currently 2.7 of the 30 million Afghans are undernourished, including a million children less than 5 years of age. In Afghanistan, the child mortality rate during the first year of life is at 66 / 1,000 (Germany: 4 / 1,000 for the first five years of life). Poverty and misery are also being exacerbated by the fact that many refugees are living in tents and that currently around 5,000 other refugees are being deported to Afghanistan from Pakistan. The approaching winter at the Hindu Kush is bitterly cold.
37 Years
The Bundeswehr – which, according to its narrative, is not waging war in Afghanistan, but is merely “engaged” – can see only positive developments.[8] “For the most part,” the Afghan army has been able to “maintain an environment of security for the population’s livelihood,” announced the commander of the “Afghanistan Task Force” of the Bundeswehr’s Operations Command Headquarters, Col. Jörn Jakschik. The training of Afghan soldiers is making “good progress” and “visible results” have been “achieved particularly in operational command,” according to Jakschik. The colonel calls for “patience and endurance,” because Afghanistan needs “perseverance,” while however, avoiding to mention how much time this will take. Afghanistan has been in a state of war for almost 37 years, without significant interruption – also due to German support of the insurgency in the 1980s and the Bundeswehr’s counterinsurgency since 2001.
For more information on this subject see: Germany’s War Record (I).

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