A burned out German military vehicle in Afghanistan's Kunduz provinceImage: AP
German troops skeptical of "partnering" with Afghan forces
April 27, 2010
The international troops have decided on a new strategy to improve stability in Afghanistan. As of summer 2010, the German Bundeswehr, too, will increasingly rely on "partnering" with Afghan soldiers.
German General Bruno Kasdorf, chief of staff at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, explains the new concept: "Partnering means living much more closely with the Afghans, preparing operations, conducting them and doing the follow-up."
Whole ISAF and Afghan army units are set to operate jointly over long periods of time. This strategy is supposed to prepare Afghans to take charge of security in their country themselves. Lieutenant Colonel Matthias Lau, deputy commander of the German military camp in Kunduz, says: "No one has claimed that this is easy. Cooperating in an alliance, and particularly with Afghan security forces, is always a challenge."
Around Kunduz, German and Afghan soldiers are supposed to clear out the insurgents' havens. But there are certain reservations in the German ISAF contingent. Colonel Michael Matz has come to know the Afghan National Army (ANA) well in his six months as commander of the Quick Reaction Force in northern Afghanistan.
"Their equipment is getting better," says Matz. "But as far as the planning of operations is concerned, there are still some differences. While we rely on a thorough analysis of the situation when making a decision, the Afghans tend to decide on the basis of a gut feeling or because of pressure from their higher-ups."
Other German soldiers add to the list of what they see as the Afghans' shortcomings: Unreliability, drug abuse, a lack of discipline and military know-how and a disregard for the protection of the population.
One major says: "The ANA is still all about fighting. These soldiers sure know how to fight, that's part of the Afghan mentality. But you also have to make them understand at times that fighting is not always the best option. You should try to take over spaces not necessarily with your fire power, but also with planning. You don't intimidate the local population, but rather trust them. That's something which the Afghan army and police still have to learn."
The modus operandi of the Afghan troops is not without risks for their ISAF partners. It is unclear how they should behave when Afghan soldiers commit atrocities against insurgents or civilians, or when they loot villages.
Expecting US support
The Bundeswehr plans to contribute 1,400 troops to the "partnering" operations with the Afghan army. The Americans are going to support the Germans in the north by moving about 4,500 soldiers there as well, plus up to 70 helicopters.
ISAF Chief of Staff General Kasdorf appreciates this. "Our aerial transport capacities in particular are not sufficient up north. So we're grateful that the Americans are helping us to compensate for this."
It is planned that the US soldiers will also train the local police and enable them to hold an area after the anti-insurgency operation is over. The ISAF leadership is eager to see first successes of the "partnering" concept as soon as possible. After all, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is scheduled to begin in 2011.