A bomb attack in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz that appears to have targeted a car belonging to German-led peacekeepers has opposition politicians in Germany questioning the strategy for stabilizing the region.
200 German soldiers are in Kunduz helping prepare for elections
The remote-controlled mine exploded on Wednesday on a crowded road as a NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) passed by, killing at least two children and two Afghan men. According to a spokesman for the ISAF peacekeepers, the car that was attacked had been clearly marked with the international group's insignia and German flags.
While no peacekeepers were injured, the incident has set off a flurry of criticism in Germany from opposition politicians. They are demanding a change in strategy and questioning whether the soldiers' presence is enough to secure peace in the region, which until the past few weeks, had been counted among the country's more stable areas.
Christian Schmidt (photo), the defense policy spokesman for the conservative parliamentary group made up of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), said the attempt "to bring stability solely through the presence of uniformed soldiers" had failed.
He called for stepping up intelligence-gathering to find out why attacks have begun to be directed at German soldiers. He also demanded that the German parliament, the Bundestag, should be the one to decide whether more German soldiers should be sent to the town of Faizabad as another PRT. The government has not planned on seeking parliamentary approval for the deployment.
According to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, the Dutch defense ministry has confirmed that a planned Dutch-German PRT for Faizabad has been shelved. The ministry said the Dutch want to concentrate their efforts on other regions.
The reconstruction team in Kunduz comprises 200 German army soldiers, along with a small number of civilian assistants. Its task is to stabilize the region in preparation for Afghan elections scheduled for September. Compared to other regions in the country, many of which are still under the control of tribal warlords, Kunduz has been relatively calm.
One of the Chinese workers wounded in the terrorist attack in Kunduz.
However, the image was shattered last week when 11 Chinese workers were killed and several injured in an early morning attack by militants on their compound.
The Social Democratic-led government has strongly rejected calls to switch gears in the region. Social Democratic (SPD) foreign policy expert Gernot Erler told the Berliner Zeitung the opposition criticism was "unsound, especially when they don't say what they want to do."
Difficult situation on the ground
However, the head of the Association of the Federal Armed Forces, Bernhard Gertz, told the Netzeitung Internet news site that the concept of regional reconstruction teams should be reviewed to see whether it "offers the guarantee that orderly elections can be carried out in Afghanistan." He warned about putting too pretty a face on the "rather critical" situation on the ground, in which the army can "no longer move freely around without armored vehicles."
Afghanistan's reconstruction minister, Amin Farhang, told Germany's Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper that more forces are needed on the ground right now in order to ensure that elections in the fall take place. He wants to see the numbers of peacekeepers in the country increased from its present 6,400 to up to 10,000. "If the Germans especially would enlarge their already strong presence as part of the NATO force, we would be very happy," he said.