After a two day delay, the first contingent of German troops arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to join the international peacekeeping forces.
German peacekeepers face a daunting task in Afghanistan
An advance party of 70 German and 30 Dutch soldiers landed at Bagram airbase outside of Kabul today. Their arrival was delayed for more than 48 hours after bad weather in the northern Turkish city of Trabzon forced them to postpone the last leg of their flight. But now they are prepared to begin their mission as part of the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan.
The first group of Germans consists of 50 airborne soldiers and 20 signals and medical troops. Their initial task is to prepare the groundwork for a much larger contingent of 800 troops scheduled to arrive at the end of the month. They must secure the area, removing mines if necessary, and organize food, housing and medical facilities for the follow-up troops.
The German’s goal is clear: as part of a UN mandated operation, they are to help stabilize Afghanistan during its initial process of establishing democracy in the country. Along with their American and European allies, they will conduct armed patrols of the cities and countryside to ensure that the region remains peaceful, and the government can continue carrying on with peace-building measures.
British troops, which arrived several weeks earlier, have already begun patrolling the streets alongside Afghan soldiers. The Germans will be expected to go on patrol as soon as possible. They have been assigned the patrol of Kabul’s government district as well as providing security at the Kabul airport.
So far Kabul residents have responded well to the growing international presence. They have remained calm and are becoming increasingly positive about the foreign troops in their city. In general, the new Afghanistan government welcomes the international peacekeeping forces.
Reinhold Schmidt, leader of the German reconnaissance mission said he’s been told "over and over by different parts of the Afghan population and the authorities that people are pleased to see German soldiers here in Afghanistan."
But, the operation is not without its dangers.
Many former Taliban fighters are suspected to be holed up in the Kabul region. Even though peacekeepers have begun disarming them, the number or armed Afghan paramilitaries in Kabul is estimated to be around 10,000. Outside of Kabul, no one can really be certain about the situation.
The country is still in great turmoil. Pockets of fighting erupt on a regular basis, as local tribal and Taliban leaders struggle to maintain their control. The roads are unsafe, and armed bandits roam the countryside looking for money and food.
Jürgen Meinberg, spokesman for the German Army Association has said that the peacekeeping task is one of the most dangerous the German army has ever taken part in. "There are mines and unexploded bombs, as well as fighters in Kabul that are still armed. There are armed groups who are set against the Petersberg Agreement and Afghanistan’s development as a democracy. That all adds up to a very risky situation for the soldiers," Meinberg said.
Karl-Henning Kröger, spokesman for the German army, admits there are risks involved in the mission, but he is confident the German soldiers are ready.
"This mission has its dangers, for instance the mines. And we don’t know how things will develop. But the soldiers had extensive and good training and they’ve been ready for action since Christmas, for days now," Kröger said.
In preparation for the mission, the German soldiers attended a four-week intensive training course prior to deployment. They received background information on Afghanistan and were instructed in patrol duties and how to react in an ambush.
The soldiers have also brought along everything they’ll need from winter clothing, blankets and tents to kitchen equipment and medical supplies.
Heavy equipment is being flown directly to Kabul. Because the German army’s planes were too small to carry all the machines, two Ukrainian planes were chartered to transport Weasel light tanks and Dingo armored personnel carriers. These vehicles are essential for protection against the extensive minefields.