Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had flown into Afghanistan on Wednesday as a surprise only to be unpleasantly surprised by two attacks on German troops in the country, which injured several soldiers and killed one. Steinmeier said the attacks were “cowardly” but they should not be allowed to deflect from the mission of creating a better future for struggling Afghans.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the airport in Masar-e-Sharif on 30. April 2009
The first attack took place on Wednesday morning just hours after German Foreign Minister Steinmeier had arrived on Afghan soil. Five soldiers were slightly injured. Steinmeier condemned the attack as “cowardly” and “insidious”.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack. Hours later, the casualty list worsened when a German patrol in Kunduz came under attack by militants with handguns and rocket-propelled grenades. One soldier was killed and four injured in the exchange of gunfire.
Once again, Steinmeier was unpleasantly surprised. He said that “the attack in Kundus shows two things: One, that the security situation in north Afghanistan is far from easy. Two, that our soldiers have a tough task to fulfil.”
Germany’s Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung also condemned the two attacks on Thursday, saying that they had clearly been planned in advance and thus indicated a new strategy. However, he did not see a connection between the attacks and Steinmeier's visit.
Taliban is increasingly “professional” and aware of Western political developments
Conrad Schetter, an Afghanistan expert at Bonn's Centre for Development Research disagreed with Jung. He said that the attacks of the Taliban are becoming increasingly similar to military-planned strikes.
Moreover, he said, that “they are very aware about what is going on in the West, especially in Germany or America. I see a strong connection between the attack and the visit of Walter Steinmeier”.
A similar fate befell German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she made a surprise visit to Afghanistan three weeks ago. Taliban militants fired rockets into Kunduz shortly after she left.
Despite the attacks, the German foreign minister was resolute that they should not prevent Germany from continuing its mission and standing by the “struggling Afghan people”.
Germany in line with the new “Obama strategy”
Foreign Minister Steinmeier pays frequent visits to Afghanistan to demonstrate Germany’s commitment to reconstructing the war-torn country.
But Conrad Schetter thought this latest trip was more than a routine visit and was linked to current US foreign policy. “There is a new Obama strategy.”
“That’s now the starting point for elaborating a new strategy for this whole region,” he explained, adding that the upcoming election in August was also important.
Germany is expected to boost its troops in Afghanistan to four and a half thousand to ensure that there is enough security in the run-up to the presidential elections. Germany currently has some 3,800 soldiers in Afghanistan. 32 have been killed over the past five years.
German-Afghan relations are generally good
Schetter added that despite generally good German-Afghan-relations there was still some tension. He said there were “differences in details”. For example, a controversial law reducing women’s rights among the Shia community, which Afghan President Karzai intends to ratify, has caused some concern.
Relations flared recently too when Germany’s willingness to take part in Afghanistan’s fight against drugs was also called into question by the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister.
Schetter rejected these accusations and questioned the government’s real interest in combating drugs, arguing that Afghanistan is already a “narco-state” and most of the country’s political leaders are involved in the domestic drug economy.