How the rules of Afghanistan have changed for the Bundeswehr | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.12.2009
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How the rules of Afghanistan have changed for the Bundeswehr

The controversial German-ordered airstrike in Afghanistan has raised many questions, including this one: Are German soldiers allowed to shoot first? It turns out that answer is changing.

A German Bundeswehr soldier taking part in an ISAF mission in Afghanistan

German soldiers have only recently begun striking first

For months German military officials have said that the deadly airstrike in Kunduz was necessary because the Taliban wanted to use the oil-filled trucks as bombs to attack the nearby German base, and thus needed to be taken out. However, reports have come out suggesting that the strike was about removing Taliban forces and not just the trucks. Now a parliamentary inquiry has begun to find out if they're allowed to do that.

German ISAF soldiers, US and Afghan forces are seen around one of the two fuel tankers which were bombed by a NATO jet in Kunduz

Was the preemptive airstrike in Kunduz allowed under the German rules of engagement?

Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force or ISAF. What the German troops are allowed to do and what is forbidden is regulated by a series of United Nations resolutions, NATO policies and agreements with the Afghan government.

UN Resolution 1833, for example, from September 2008, says the UN reiterates "its support for the continuing endeavors by the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, including ISAF and the Operation Enduring Freedom or OEF coalition, to improve the security situation and to continue to address the threat posed by the Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremist groups, and stressing in this context the need for sustained international efforts, including those of ISAF and the OEF coalition."

In the Bundeswehr's ISAF mandate, which was renewed on December 3rd, the mission of the Bundeswehr is also described as "maintaining security."

A history of self-restraint

There is nothing at all laid down about limiting the Bundeswehr purely to acts of self-defense or policing, but the army has for years restricted itself in this way. And the German government had established national caveats or formal restrictions for the Bundeswehr in the ISAF rules of engagement. Deadly force, for example, was only to be used if the soldiers were being attacked or about to be attacked.

Soldiers in tanks

Northern Afghanistan has become increasingly dangerous for the Bundeswehr

Since this summer, however, this self-restraint has ended. The Bundeswehr has been attacked by insurgents more frequently since the beginning of the year and the Defense Ministry has now given the soldiers more leeway in deciding on the kind of force they use.

In the pocket of every soldier on every mission is a document that reminds them that, "attacks can be prevented, for example, by taking measures against those who are planning, preparing or supporting attacks or show any other hostile behavior."

The soldiers are no longer limited to shooting only in cases of imminent danger to their own life and limb, but also to prevent future attacks. The inquiry will have to determine whether the strike on the Taliban in Kunduz is covered by this new rule.

Author: Manfred Goetzke/hf
Editor: Trinity Hartman

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