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Opinion: Afghanistan Needs More Civilian and Military Help

New US President Obama is to push international allies to boost their civilian and military engagement in Afghanistan. DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz says the two-pronged approach is the only way to get the country on track.

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Afghanistan is teetering on the edge of collapse. That's the opinion of all military leaders, reconstruction workers and informed politicians who have visited the country in recent months.

The Taliban has regrouped and has extended its influence from the south of Afghanistan to the north and west. Troops of the multinational NATO-led ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) force, including German soldiers, have increasingly come under attacks by insurgent groups.

Aid workers have been leaving the region due to the worsening security situation. At the same time, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has failed to extend his centralized rule to the whole country. The drug trade continues to flourish, providing a source of finance for the Taliban and Islamist terrorism.

Deutsche Welle's Daniel Scheschkewitz

Daniel Scheschkewitz

NATO's top commander, General John Craddock, has for months been urging that the Afghanistan force needs to be bolstered by a further 20,000 soldiers. This week NATO sources said the German army plans to send an additional 600 soldiers to Afghanistan's north where German troops are already stationed.

Raising the number of troops makes sense provided it's meant to provide military cover for the civilian reconstruction of the country and not the senseless bombing of alleged Taliban targets which usually kills innocent civilians.

Human rights groups say over 1,000 civilians were killed last year alone as a result of such attacks by international troops. A similar number of people were killed in suicide bombings carried out by Islamist terrorists. That leads to an escalating spiral of violence in the region which can only be stopped if significant progress is made in rebuilding Afghanistan.

Any attempt at reconstruction however remains piecemeal if there is no security, law and order. Efforts to create institutions such as a justice system and a functioning Afghan police force, which has been ignored for too long, need to be urgently stepped up. The military, which is responsible for maintaining order, needs to have an Afghan face.

The German army is already making a valuable contribution by training the ANA or Afghan National Army. But the army still rarely patrols remote parts of the country where former warlords and the Taliban seal drug deals and the opium harvest continues unchecked.

The planned deployment of NATO reconnaissance planes, in which Germany will contribute a third of the needed personnel, could help to tackle the problem. In the past, the US successfully used such planes to fight drug smuggling in Colombia.

The problem is that these aircraft can also be used to coordinate combat operations. It would be good if a German parliamentary mandate, which is needed for such operations, would be limited to using the reconnaissance jets only for patrolling purposes. It would thus prevent innocent civilians from being killed during the deployment of the spy planes and German soldiers being involved in their deaths.

As opposed to former US President George W. Bush, Afghanistan is a priority for new US President Barack Obama. That can only be welcomed. At the same time, the situation would improve if in addition to raising the number of troops, the quality of the civilian-military engagement were improved.

More soldiers alone won't be able to secure peace. But a targeted involvement in reconstructing the country just might achieve that.

Daniel Scheschkewitz is a reporter for DW-RADIO and Deutsche Welle's former Washington correspondent (sp)

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