Germany: What is going wrong in Afghanistan?

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Even main stream media as German DW is starting to understand that “something” is going wrong with the Western strategy in Afghanistan. How much time will they need to understand the same thing about Syria?

Germany: What is going wrong in Afghanistan?

Originally appeared at DW, translated by Karin exclusively for SouthFront

In Mazar-i-Sharif, the German defense minister was self-critical. Mistakes have been made, and the situation was underestimated. This leaves the question: Are the mistakes amendable?

“We will remain”, Ursula von der Leyen expressed during her troops visit at Camp Shaheen. It had been shown that Afghanistans partner “too fast, too ambitious planned the withdrawal of the international community from Afghanistan”. This sent a “wrong signal” and was a chance for the radical Islamic Taliban who had sensed their opportunity to overthrow the government. An admission of guilt, first NATO, later also the German federal government drew their consequences out of it: 12,000 foreign forces will remain even after the end of the year and will continue to train the Afghan army. The Bundeswehr (German armed forces) increased its troops even from 850 to up to 980 soldiers.

Almost a year after the NATO officially ended its mission International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the result of the withdrawal seems disastrous: an unprecedented level of violence, the highest number of civilian casualties since the beginning of the intervention and the resurfacing Taliban who controls parts of the country again. This goes along with an ailing economy, lack of infrastructure and political elites who are involved in corruption and power struggles.

Noble-minded goals on the Hindukush

Although the international community in 2001 had stepped up to liberate Afghanistan from the terrorist Taliban regime and “build a modern, democratic and economically liberal state” in the Central Asian country, said political scientist Conrad Schetter of the University of Bonn.

But from the outset on the course had been wrongly set, experts agree. Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the independent Think Tanks Afghanistan Analysts Network argued, after the victory over the Taliban regime one had “failed to integrate them into the political system.” This even though the Taliban were “beaten militarily and politically weakened”. Struggling with the consequences of this largely by US President George Bush shaped “We-don’t-talk-with-terrorists” policy are States, which are still engaged in Afghanistan today.

In addition, the United States, neither included the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai in political decisions, nor pressed ahead the development of state institutions, so Ruttig. A power vacuum was created, which was filled by those whom one wanted to deny any influence in Afghanistan: first by local warlords, later the Taliban.

Germany: What is going wrong in Afghanistan?

Thomas Ruttig inter alia advised the UN and the German Embassy in Kabul.

No strategy for Kunduz

A development that also proved disastrous for the Germans. Only in September hundreds of Taliban fighters overran the provincial capital of Kunduz, without encountering any significant resistance from the native troops. Until two years ago the German Armed Forces had responsibility for security in Kunduz.

The failure of the German strategy in the region traces Conrad Schetter back to to a lack of strategy: “The Bundeswehr did not know until six or seven years in what field of conflict it operated. For many decision-makers in the military, it was most important to show allegiance. They themselves had no far-reaching plans what to achieve in Kunduz.” A dedicated European, let alone German Afghanistan policy was lacking.

Misinformation and wishful thinking

“In the beginning the existing conflict lines were actually ignored. These didn’t just run between the Taliban and the government, but between many armed groups that were associated with the Afghan government,” explains Thomas Ruttig. Instead, the army held on to local power structures and cooperated with the established elites. Warlords occupied gubernatorial, police or intelligence posts – funded by German development funds.

(Conrad Schetter is Scientific Director of the Bonn International Center for Conversion)

Involuntarily the German Federal Republic strengthened this way the Taliban, who formed into powerful groups against the warlords. Afghanistan expert Ruttig concludes: “Germany has basically treated Kunduz like an island, persuaded itself that it is stable. Even so it had been predicted that these internal conflicts could break open.”

New Mission: Helping people to help themselves

When the time came, the international alliance had long withdrawn from Afghanistan. The new motto was: The Afghan army should learn to defend their own country. This is provided in the “Resolute Support Mission”. The international forces are not allowed to intervene in fights, but only train the local security forces, give guidance and support.

The development from the start of the intervention to the current trainings mission of NATO Schetter summarizes this: “The international community strategy has shrunk more and more over the years. It went from the construction of a civil society and democracy 15 years ago, to confine itself somehow to the establishment of law, then the creation of security and in the end only geared towards stability. ”

Merely symbolic policy

At this stage it is for the militarily involved states just a matter of pulling out of the affair, so Schetter. In the current security situation in Afghanistan this is no easy task. Von der Leyen now had to admit: “The Afghan army is not ready yet to take on alone the whole responsibility.”

But what to do with this realization? Thomas Ruttig brings the hopelessness of the situation to the point: “I believe that it neither helps pull out the troops, nor keeping them there.” It is rather time to make peace through political negotiations. This has been neglected for too long, he emphasized. “The decision of the Federal Government to have a few more troops in Afghanistan is symbolic politics, which should indicate that we are doing something. Militarily it is irrelevant.”

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