I've said this before, and in the Obama Administration's new AfPak Strategy it was mentioned but got little attention. Now it is being echoed more and more; let's encourage our allies who have military caveats make other, perhaps more useful contributions.
PJ Tobia, an independent journalist in Kabul, has this to say about the Germans and their conundrum at home. The Germans want to be good allies, but they learned some serious lessons from the 1930's and '40's. Germany has a very different national spirit these days. Anyone I know who has worked with German troops in Germany says that the German troops are very impressive. They produce one of the best main battle tanks in the world, the Leopard II. They are smart, organized, well-trained soldiers.
They are horribly hamstrung in Afghanistan.
In January of 2008, at the German FOB in Konduz, SFC O was in the German TOC while they watched a group of insurgents set up rockets to fire at the FOB. The Germans could see them clearly on their sensors. The Germans possessed 120mm mortars which they could have easily used to put a stop to the insurgent's activities. Instead, the Germans were calling in to their higher headquarters for permission to place magazines in their small arms. Not to load the weapons... merely to place magazines in them.
O nearly went ballistic. He asked them why they didn't just mortar the rocketeers and get it over with. The Germans demurred. They were not permitted by their national caveats to engage, even when they saw the threat clearly and they were about to get rocketed. The Germans endured a brief rocketing (which never seem very brief when you are on the receiving end.)
The Germans have since changed some of their caveats to permit some more active roles. They are not, however, as able to take action as Americans, Brits, Canadians, or Dutch troops. What SFC O witnessed was merely an example, a single snapshot, of the type of incidents that occur when heavily caveated troops are put into situations that they cannot properly respond to.
The Germans are masterful organizers. The Germans, only sixty years ago, were rebuilding a country from the ground up. Afghanistan needs people who can mentor would-be administrators who are trying to work in a system that has no institutional memory of efficient governmental behaviors. As Tobia points out, it would not be perfectly safe, but it would be a very necessary contribution. The Japanese took a similar path, focusing their efforts on disarming local militias. The Japanese made massive contributions with this work... and it wasn't combat-related. The Germans, whose population does not support military involvement outside of Germany, could make similar contributions with governance.
Germany's initial role was in the development of the Afghan National Police. The Germans provided training, but could not perform the operational mentoring that is needed to really make lasting progress. German civilian experts could make huge, lasting contributions in non-military mentoring to help Afghan government officials to provide ethical, efficient government to more Afghans.
Calls for change like this are very slow-moving. We don't have time to screw around and cause a great NATO ally like Germany to become disillusioned when they could make such contributions that are so desperately needed. Let's work to get some of our allies more involved in ways that make more of an impact rather than mostly symbolic military contributions which can be less than effective.