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Opinion: Going it Alone Outside Kabul

Following a futile search for international partners, Germany alone will send another reconstruction team to Afghanistan. It's just another example of the lack of concept plaguing the West's Afghanistan policy.

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German soldiers will be on their own in Faizabad

If NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is right in his estimation that the deployment in Afghanistan is a crucial measure of the sustainability of the military alliance, then things don't look too good.

Hamid Karzai der neue Regierungschef von Afghanistan

Afghan president Hamid Karzai

That was apparent even at the NATO summit in Istanbul at the end of June and it is becoming painfully clearer. Everyone agreed in Istanbul that the number of soldiers in Afghanistan had to be massively increased in order to secure presidential elections in the country on Oct. 9. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was promised 3,500 soldiers -- significantly less than the number the president had requested.

At the time, the key question of who would provide the extra soldiers remained open. Since only Italy and Spain have made corresponding promises since, just 1,800 extra soldiers have been provided.

Where are the PRTs?

It's the same picture when it comes to the provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) that are meant to protect and support civilian and development projects in Afghanistan. Before the NATO summit, there was talk of a far-reaching network of such PRTs in northern and western Afghanistan. Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain, Turkey and The Netherlands were meant to provide the necessary military forces.

But the Italians, Spanish and Turks made it clear in Istanbul that they weren't prepared to do that. The result was a vague decision: four new teams would be built, but the question of who would provide them, was left wide open again.

After the summit it was time for some glossing over: an existing British team was meant to be shortly placed under NATO command. And Germany said it would upgrade the planned Faizabad outpost of the existing PRT in Kunduz to a "new" reconstruction team -- but only if it was supported by other smaller NATO members states.

After the deployment of 100 additional German soldiers in Faizabad was announced, first for the end of July and then for mid-August, German Defense Minister Peter Struck was forced to make an admission: The German soldiers, who would be transferred in September, would remain alone in Faizabad. Berlin's pleas for help remained unheeded.

Doubters believe Afghanistan too far gone

Apparently several NATO states aren't convinced anymore that troop deployment in Afghanistan makes sense - there's no other explanation for their refusal to send soldiers.

Reiche Ernte

Poppy farmer Mohammad Agha inspects his crop in the small village of Essazai Kili 15km south of Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan.

The doubters have enough arguments: Even after two and a half years, Afghanistan is still miles away from real stability. President Hamid Karzai's power is limited solely to the capital of Kabul; it's the warlords who still pull the strings in the provinces. The disarmament of militia has stalled and remains far behind the envisioned targets. And if all that wasn't bad enough, the opium trade has been enjoying an unimagined boom since the end of the Taliban regime. Opium that, in particular, sustains drug addicts in Europe.

But the battle against the warlords and the drug trade is explicitly not the responsibility of NATO in Afghanistan -- for fear of being sucked into incalculable conflicts.

And so -- cynical as it might sound -- the next poppy crop in Faizabad, one of the most important agricultural regions in Afghanistan, will probably be harvested under the eyes and protection of German soldiers. Does it make sense to risk the life and health of soldiers for that?

More soldiers needed

What's true is that with NATO's present deployment concept, Afghanistan will languish in its current instable condition for a long time to come. A complete pull-out, which opposition politicians in Germany are advocating, would be the worst alternative. Civil war, a further boost to the drug trade and the revival of rich breeding ground for international terrorism, would be the inevitable consequences. Nobody could really want that.

That's why what's crucially needed are more, and not less, soldiers and in all regions of the country with a significantly wider mandate. And as far as NATO's sustainability goes: The strength of the alliance is not just measured by its military capabilities, but also on the basis of the capacity to match inadequate plans to real needs.

Or at least to the willingness of its members, to honor and implement decisions that have been taken jointly. In the case of Afghanistan, this means sending more soldiers immediately.

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