NATO General Faces Challenges in Afghanistan | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.08.2003
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NATO General Faces Challenges in Afghanistan

As NATO takes over peacekeeping in Afghanistan, its first such operation outside Europe, Deutsche Welle takes a look at the alliance’s German three-star General Götz Gliemeroth, who will direct the forces.


Man in charge - NATO General Götz Gliemeroth salutes after arriving in Kabul.

The security situation in Afghanistan may still be far from certain, but for NATO General Götz Gliemeroth, one thing is already clear – taking over the command of the multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is going to be a tough challenge.

As the leadership of the 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Afghanistan changes hands on Monday when NATO takes over the helm from joint German-Dutch command, all eyes will be on General Gliemeroth.

The 59-year-old faces the twin responsibility of leading NATO into its first peacekeeping operation outside Europe in its 54-year history as well as a possible expansion of ISAF’s Kabul operations into the more remote provinces, which are considered lawless and risky on account of factional rivalries and a resurgent Taliban guerilla movement.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Gliemeroth, a former lieutenant general in the German armed forces, underlined the fact that the situation in Kabul is still "insecure." His aim, he said, was to ensure that every single man and woman returned home from Afghanistan, safe and sound.

The general also highlighted the significance of NATO’s involvement. "It’s certainly a historic step for the alliance. We all know it’s the first deployment of NATO troops outside Europe and North America."

A steady climb to top military echelons

The leadership of ISAF, whose soldiers are drawn from 31 nations, marks a highpoint in Gliemeroth’s military career.

Previously a commander at the NATO Joint Command Center in Heidelberg, Gliemeroth was in charge of ground troops from central and eastern Europe and is thus used to working in an international atmosphere. The general said the troops in Kabul are multinational in the true sense of the word. "There’ll be 14 NATO countries represented, and what’s perhaps even more conspicuous will be the troops from 17 countries, which aren’t members of NATO."

Born on October 21, 1943 in Göttingen, Gliemeroth’s career in the German army began at the age of 20 as a paratrooper. Two years later, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and deployed as a combat troops officer in Hammelburg, Munich and Ellwangen. After performing his duties as an officer with particular distinction, Gliemeroth underwent commander training duties in Hamburg and Toronto in his mid-thirties and then transferred to NATO high command to Mönchengladbach near the German-Dutch border.

For the next few years, Gliemeroth alternated between administrative jobs in the defense ministry and commanding troop exercises in the field. After being promoted to general in 1990, he was placed in charge of army personnel.

Gliemeroth’s peers have described him as open-minded, frank and eloquent. He has a passion for sports, traveling as well as classical music. He’s been reported as taking CD’s of Mozart and Brahms to Kabul. The posting in Afghanistan is his last before he retires.

Tough task made simpler

"We expect to be there for six months. That doesn’t change the fact that the Alliance is introducing more continuity, since you’ve still got the planning capability and resource issues going on," he said.

Gliemeroth’s job in Afghanistan involves supporting the interim Afghan government in building democracy and improving internal security. According to the agreements reached at the Petersburg Conference in December 2001, ISAF’s mandate also extends to raising and training Afghan security forces as well as protecting United Nations personnel based in Kabul.

Though the Afghanistan mission is expected to be tough going for Gliemeroth, a few facts already speak in his favor. General Gliemeroth’s origins – the fact that he is German – has a number of advantages: First, it makes the handover easier, because the troops have already been under German command for the past six months. In addition, the Germans, on account of their intense involvement in rebuilding postwar Afghanistan both on a civil and military level, enjoy a good reputation with the general public.

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