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Germany

Afghanistan Angst

For most Germans, knowing their country is at war is a disturbing new experience. On Wednesday, two German soldiers died in Afghanistan - adding a new dimension to the conflict for the Germans.

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"Operation Anaconda" is the largest offensive yet against remaining Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists

On Wednesday, the war in Afghanistan took on a new dimension for the Germans. For the first time, two German soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

The German Defense Ministry said the two Bundeswehr soldiers and three Danish members of the international peacekeeping force died in an accident at a munitions site in Kabul.

Even though compassion with all other victims of the war has been high in Germany, Wednesday marked the first time that German nationals were directly affected.

The war hits home

Since the past weekend, the people in Germany are beginning to wake up to the reality of being at war. Even before the first German soldiers were killed on Wednesday, the news suddenly began to bring the war home in a new way.

Last weekend, American military commanders made public that German elite troops were fighting alongside U.S. forces in "Operation Anaconda" in Afghanistan.

All of a sudden it dawned on the general public that these German soldiers were actively participating in combat in the U.S.-led offensive aimed at tracking down al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

Until recently, the German defense ministry had always stressed the German soldiers in Afghanistan were on a peacekeeping mission. It usually pointed out the humanitarian side of the mission: supplying aid and safeguarding the peace in Kabul.

But no details about Germany's elite KSK (Kommandos Spezialkräfte) troops in other parts of Afghanistan ever emerged.

Germans in combat

Rudolf Scharping

Defense minister Rudolf Scharping

Meanwhile Germany's defense minister Rudolf Scharping has been forced to admit that German KSK forces are indeed taking part in Operation Anaconda.

Scharping's spokesman Franz Borkenhagen acknowledged that there was more to the German involvement in Afghanistan than peacekeeping.

He criticized that details had come out about the involvement of the special German forces in Operation Anaconda. It made sense, he said, to restrict information about such volatile operations.

Worried about two fronts

Restricting sensitive information is important to the German government for two reasons. Obviously, it wants to protect the German soldiers who are part of the Afghanistan force. Sensitive information in the wrong hands could jeopardize their lives and their mission.

But the German government is also concerned about the situation at home. If there's one thing it doesn't need it's an outbreak of "Afghanistan Angst" in Germany. Public opinion in Germany is divided over German military involvement abroad.

Angst and hysteria

When the news broke that German KSK troops were engaged in combat in Afghanistan, Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported about a "wave of hysteria" in Calw, the south-western German town where the KSK forces are based.

Calw-mayor Werner Spec quickly denied this, saying the town was completely calm. But he said the people of Calw - among them families and friends of the KSK soldiers - were concerned about the disquieting news they heard about Afghanistan.

New situation

For the German people, it's new and disturbing to experience their country at war. After the Second World War, the German military was restricted to defending the country's and NATO territory.

Only after the end of the Cold War did Germany slowly begin to take part in international military missions.

Bundeswehroffizier in Afghanistan

A German soldier on duty in Afghanistan

At first, Germany mainly gave logistic support to international military missions such as the Gulf War. But over the last ten years, the German armed forces took on more an more responsibility in missions in Somalia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

One thing Germans still haven't had to get used to in all these years is seeing significant numbers of dead or wounded soldiers returning from such missions.

With increasing responsibilities and increasingly dangerous operations, the people of this country now have to learn to expect such a scenario. Wednesday's report of German casualties may just be the first of many still to come.

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