Germany's decision to send more soldiers to Afghanistan will be appreciated in Washington. Not because the contribution will have a big impact on the ground, but because Berlin's at least doing something.
Germany plans to send more police trainers to Afghanistan
When the German government, after an extended internal discussion process, announced last month that it would be deploying 500 additional troops and a reserve contingent of up to 350 soldiers it was a classic question of whether the glass is half full or half empty.
US President Barack Obama had committed 30,000 additional troops for his planned surge in Afghanistan and had expected Washington's NATO allies to contribute another 10,000 soldiers to the ISAF mission. Germany, which currently has the third-largest military contingent in Afghanistan behind the US and Britain, was supposed to play an important part in NATO's enlarged role there.
"The United States had initially asked for 2,000 additional troops and had hoped that they might get 1,000," Klaus Larres, a professor of international relations at the University of Ulster and a visiting senior research fellow with the US Library of Congress, told Deutsche Welle.
"When the Merkel government then decided on more or less 500 plus a 350-strong reserve force, the United States found that a little disappointing," he said.
While Berlin fell way short on the number of troops the US had hoped for, it sweetened the deal by significantly stepping up its training capacities - and by busting open its purse. Germany has promised up to 430 million euros ($582 million) annually for the next three years for development and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and has set aside an additional 10 million euros per year in order to try to reintegrate Afghan insurgents into society.
The number of German trainers for the Afghan army and police force will also see a sharp increase. Berlin plans to deploy 1,400 (up from 280) army trainers and 200 (up from 120) police trainers to the country.
France says no to more troops
Berlin will deploy up to 850 additional combat troops to ISAF
Put together, the German package of a small troop increase coupled with a major boost in training capacities and development spending, may not look so bad after all, especially when compared to the contribution of other US allies.
"To provide on the whole 850 new troops is much better than not to do anything at all like the French (will do). They have simply refused point blank to offer any more troops," said Larres. French President Nicolas Sarkozy not only refused openly to send any additional soldiers, he also signed off on a mere 80 additional French trainers to Afghanistan.
While the German troop increase will have a negligible impact on the ground in Afghanistan, experts agree that Berlin's combined Afghanistan package makes sense and will be appreciated in Washington.
"I think this is very welcome because that's really the long-term way out of it," Josef Braml, a transatlantic security specialist with the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Deutsche Welle. "Development aid and providing different options for the Afghan is not only doing good, but doing well by doing good."
However, warn the experts, it is crucial that the training component of Germany's Afghanistan engagement is not only carried out as planned, but that the training must also be improved methodically and adapted to the special circumstances in that country.
In the past, Germany and the EU have repeatedly stressed the importance of training the military and police forces. But many experts believe that European training efforts so far have not been sustained enough and view them as rather unsuccessful.
Make or break time in Afghanistan
"This is a really important step since we really have to put the money and the soldiers where our mouth was," said Braml. "We have been proposing that but we haven't lived up to our commitments in the past."
"There are security experts who wonder whether the German police is the right tool or whether it's rather the American or even the French police that's better-suited for this robust task," he added.
Germany will now play a major role in training Afghan forces
His colleague Larres urges that the training efforts in Afghanstan must become more realistic. "Training police forces for Afghanistan and in Afghanistan is of course very different than training a modern police force in a big German city and I think these very different considerations have to be taken into account. So combat experience has to be included."
Larres also notes that Germany by drastically increasing its training capacities will take on a much larger responsibility for the creation of a successful Afghan police corps and military.
So the question of whether Berlin's Afghanistan contribution will be perceived as a glass half full or a glass half empty might well depend on whether or not Germany can play a decisive role in establishing a functioning Afghan police force and army.
Author: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge