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Kunduz mission

July 28, 2009

German military and Afghan forces are midway through a joint offensive to push the Taliban from the northern province of Kunduz. But analysts say keeping the insurgents from returning could be harder.

A Bundeswehr soldier holds a rifle while on tour in Afghanistan
Analysts says the Bundeswehr will struggle to keep the Taliban from returningImage: AP

Military officials from the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan say there is a big chance that Taliban-led violence could escalate across the country as Afghan presidential elections, to be held on Aug. 20.

The stated goal of the German-Afghan mission is to secure Kunduz ahead of those elections. The governor of Kunduz, Mohammad Omar, said Monday that progress has already been made in the offensive, which began last week and involves around 300 Bundeswehr troops and 900 Afghan security force personnel and police.

"We have been successful so far and have made headway," he said. "We have recaptured areas in which the Taliban were active, for example, in the district of Char Darah."

Omar said the history of the region warranted the Bundeswehr mission there.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will run for a second termImage: AP

"In the past this region was a political and military stronghold for the Taliban. When the regime was brought down in 2001, hundreds of fighters fled to Pakistan. But because they know the area well, they have come back."

Good odds of success

Defense analyst Charles Heyman told Deutsche Welle that the chances of success for Bundeswehr forces operating in the Kunduz mission were relatively high.

"It's quite possible that the operation in Kunduz could have more success than the operations in the south. I would expect, in fact, the operation in Kunduz to be more successful and for the elections in that area to be safer and more secure."

Heyman said that around 80 percent of the violence in Afghanistan occured in around 20 percent of the country, and that the northern regions were less hostile than those in the south.

Neither the governor nor Bundeswehr officials have said how long the operation in Kunduz is going to last, and scant details on the mission have been released by the German and Afghan governments. But with the aim of shoring up security for the elections there is every chance it could run until late August.

Changing conditions

Thomas Ruttig is with the Afghanistan Analysts Network and the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. He told Deutsche Welle that the Bundeswehr mission to remove the Taliban from Kunduz could be successful, but that stopping them from returning could prove much more difficult.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) smiles during her visit to the Ali Chapan High School in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan
German efforts to boost civilian development in Afghanistan could sufferImage: AP

"It's like a balloon you fill with water. If you press at one part of it, the bubbles stick out at some other place," he said. "And that's the modus operandi of the Taliban, which on the other hand also shows that neither the Afghan nor the international forces are able to control the whole territory of Afghanistan, so there are always backdoors open for the Taliban."

Ruttig said that unstable military conditions in Kunduz could also pose problems for the German government's civilian programs in the region.

"The situation in Kunduz has changed to the negative side, so much so that it has become very difficult to push forward the civilian side," he said. "This means helping build infrastructure, doing projects and supporting effective, working and responsible Afghan leadership in that area. I wouldn't talk about failure, but I would say that the framework and conditions have become very difficult."

New rules

On Monday, Germany's Defense Ministry announced further changes to rules of engagement for German troops serving in Afghanistan, allowing them to shoot at fleeing insurgents. The development could increase the odds of success for the joint mission in Kunduz.

Meanwhile, the parliament of Montenegro, which has aspirations for both European Union and NATO membership, has voted in favor of sending 40 troops and a medical unit to Afghanistan to serve under German command.

The Montenegrin defense minister, Boro Vucinic, said a three-man unit would also be sent to an EU-led maritime mission off the Horn of Africa aimed at halting pirate attacks on international ships.


Editor: Neil King

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