War as a "Task for Generations"

KABUL/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government has announced that today, the cabinet will decide to augment the Bundeswehr troop contingent in Afghanistan. As was already previously announced, the maximum number of German troops deployed in that country will be raised from 980 to 1,300 because of the need to expand the protection of German military instructors. The situation in Afghanistan is, in fact, deteriorating. Even according to US sources, the Afghan government controls only a few more than half of the country's districts. For fear of attacks, soldiers avoid using road vehicles as much as possible. Last year nearly 3,500 civilians were killed in armed hostilities or attacks. After 16 years of occupation, defeating the Taliban seems more distant than ever. Increasing the number of troops is strengthening the western presence, at a time when Moscow is again gaining influence at the Hindu Kush and offering to moderate ceasefire negotiations.

The Taliban are Advancing

The planned increase of troops in Afghanistan must be seen in the context of years of that country's deterioration. Excerpts of the government's "Report on the Status and Outlook of German Engagement in Afghanistan," published yesterday, confirm this development, but offer no new insights. The report admits that Kabul only has "basic control of 60 percent of the territory consisting of about two-thirds of the population."[1] The US-Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has already noted in October that 13 percent of the country's 407 districts are completely controlled by the Taliban and another 30 percent are "contested." Since November 2015, the portion of government controlled districts has decreased by 16 percent. However, even in the government controlled regions the situation is dramatic. "Combat actions, (terror) attacks and the risk of kidnapping now allow for investments and consulting services only under strict security precautions," the government's report notes. Already two years ago, correspondents reported that western development aid workers rarely dare to venture out of their high security offices in armored vehicles. Even soldiers are taking helicopters from one base to another, because using road vehicles has become much too dangerous.[2]

Civilian Casualties

In Afghanistan, the number of civilians wounded or killed in armed hostilities or attacks is alarmingly high. According to a report of the United Nations, published in February, last year 3,438 civilians were killed in armed conflict - including 861 children; 7,015 civilians including 2,318 children were injured. The number is just below the record high in 2016, but is still at the dramatic level of nearly 3,500 people killed and more than 7,000 injured per year, constant since 2014. According to the United Nations, at least 28,291 civilians have been killed since 2009 and at least 52,366 injured. UN reports also detail the number of civilians killed by the troops of the Afghan government and its allies. With 745 casualties last year, it reached the second highest number since 2009. Since 2009 at least 5,112 civilians have been killed in operations carried out by Afghan government or western troops.[3]This number does not include those, who indirectly died later, due to injuries or destruction caused by the war. According to a comprehensive analysis, the number of direct and indirect war casualties in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2015 is more than 220,000.[4]

"Strategic Patience"

Afghanistan's catastrophic situation is a damning indictment of western occupation forces. Following the war in the fall of 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban, having themselves taken control of the country and bragging about how they would bring a glamorous future to the population, it soon became apparent that the western occupation forces' glorious promises would not be fulfilled, as they had thought. In late summer 2007, nearly six years after the war began, the SPD Parliamentary Group Chair, and ex-Minister of Defense, Peter Struck felt compelled to announce in an interview that the Afghanistan mission would last another ten years: "It would be very desirable," he suggested, "if, above all, Angela Merkel would explain to the Germans why this engagement is necessary."[5] In its most recent report - more than the predicted decade later - the German government writes: "the development of viable security forces, the reinforcement of constitutional institutions as well as the society's overcoming decades of conflict are tasks that will take generations, and require strategic patience."[6] There are no concrete stipulations about the duration of the mission in the excerpts of Berlin's "Report on the Status and Outlook" that were published.

More Troops

The German government will now announce the augmentation of the Bundeswehr troop contingents at the Hindu Kush. Today, the cabinet is scheduled to decide to raise the maximum number of German troops deployed in Afghanistan from 980 to 1,300. Above all this is supposed to facilitate German troops' ability to fulfill their official mission of training Afghan soldiers, on a larger scale. According to reports, recently only a few dozen of the nearly 980 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in Afghanistan are actually being sent out on training and counseling missions, because not enough troops are available for their protection. With the deterioration of the situation, the need for protection of German military instructors has continued to grow. The buildup of the German contingent is part of a NATO buildup of Afghanistan units, which the war alliance had decided upon last November. NATO troop levels are supposed to be raised from 13,000 to 16,000 soldiers. Additional US units under US national command again bring the total to more than 20,000 western soldiers stationed in the country. In consideration of the deterioration of the situation, over the past few years, as well as the history of the war in Afghanistan, in general, it is unclear how the Taliban is supposed to be defeated in this war.

Russia's Influence Growing

However, the question is, whether this is what Berlin and Washington are actually seeking. Over the past few years, Moscow's influence in Kabul has significantly grown. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) Among its activities, from December 2016 to April 2017, Moscow has sponsored several rounds of negotiations on settling Afghanistan's conflict. Taking part were the People's Republic of China, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan - but not the EU and the USA. Experts in the United States, who are closely watching Russian activities, note that Moscow "is positioning itself as a key player in future talks," according to the very influential US periodical "Foreign Affairs," at the beginning of the year.[8] In fact, Kabul seems to seek, to a growing extent, cooperation with Russia. At talks in Moscow in late November, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, Mohammad Atmar, considering the catastrophic military situation, was quoted requesting of the Russian government "if you have contacts with the Taliban, please use these contacts for promotion of peace talks."[9] In January, Russia's foreign ministry announced that it is “ready to provide an appropriate platform," for direct talks with the Taliban. At the end of February, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani officially called on the Taliban to accept peace negotiations, offering them, for the first time, significant concessions.[10] If negotiations do take place, Moscow will have outmaneuvered the West in Afghanistan, which officially rejects such talks.

No End in Sight

Berlin and Washington, however, are banking on the war continuing - as the planned increase of German troops in Afghanistan confirms - even with no end in sight.


[1] Arnd Henze: "Kämpfe, Anschläge, Entführungsgefahr". tagesschau.de 06.03.2018.

[2] Friederike Böge: Hilfe per Fernsteuerung. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.08.2016. See also Germany's War Record (II).

[3] United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: Afghanistan. Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Annual Report 2017. Kabul, February 2018.

[4] IPPNW: Body Count. Opferzahlen nach 10 Jahren "Krieg gegen den Terror". Irak - Afghanistan - Pakistan. Berlin, September 2015. Mitgezählt worden sind dabei allerdings auch Kombattanten. See also Germany's War Record (II).

[5] "Noch 10 Jahre in Afghanistan". faz.net 02.09.2007.

[6] Arnd Henze: "Kämpfe, Anschläge, Entführungsgefahr". tagesschau.de 06.03.2018.

[7] See also A Remarkable Comeback.

[8] Julia Gurganus: Russia's Afghanistan Strategy. foreignaffairs.com 02.01.2018.

[9] Henry Meyer: Now Putin Is Being Asked to Bring Peace to Afghanistan. bloomberg.com 23.11.2017.

[10] Kathrin Hille: Russia offers to host talks between Afghan government and Taliban. ft.com 17.01.2018.