Friday, June 26, 2009


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.


  1. And now the German are on pace for a serious casualty tally this year. Kunduz was the wrong place for them with the caveats. Probably the worst in the whole north.

  2. It must be extremely frustrating for the German Soldiers themselves. Your bang on though. Germans are renowned for efficiency and would be graet at helping set up governence.

  3. That's an interesting point about mentoring 'would-be' mentors toward better governance. I've seen you make that point before at Abu Muqawama.

    (Do you have specific examples of what that mentoring might be? Sorry if you've already discussed this here, and sorry to drop in and make requests of your time!)

    It is interesting, though.

    - Madhu

  4. er, administrators not mentors....

    - Madhu

  5. I've done a very unscientific scan of troop levels and set that against the number of combat deaths for the various NATO countries. With those numbers Germany stands out with the lowest ratio of combat deaths for their deployment.

    Now this might mean they are exceptionally good or in a particular peaceful region (not). It also might mean they are just not engaging, as above report is suggesting. Is this a strategy? I think not. Trying not to offend anyone in a war and providing the first combat experience for an Afghan “accidental guerilla” by offering your FOB as a live fire target cannot be good. Of course it serves the purpose to fulfill NATO troop request yet keeping your deployed citizen relatively safe. I don’t think the German government is really signed up for this engagement. There is more here than just a theoretical pro & con discussion of being in Afghanistan. When you send troops into a war you have to allow them to act like troops. Particular in this region: people that act responsible, strict and with consequence are much more respected than a rollover. Not engaging is worse than making a mistake and then having to correct it.
    I wonder if the ISAF command is too busy to realize the misplacement, if they placed the Germans there in honor of what once was or to challenge them (the German government) to come out of their shell. They must be aware of the predicament.
    I feel sorry for the Soldaten that serve as targets but commend them for not being hit more often.


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