German soldiers in Afghanistan have begun to operate according to a new set of rules that allow them to use force pre-emptively.
German soldiers in Afghanistan have new options for defense
Germany says it is set to continue its biggest military offensive in northern Afghanistan to date, involving some 300 members of the Bundeswehr's Quick Reaction Force and 900 Afghan soldiers and police.
But they will be acting under new rules of engagement. German defence ministry this weekend issued an updated set of the so-called “pocket card”, designed to give the troops a clearer idea of what they are allowed to do under certain conditions.
In recent months, there had been mounting criticism that the soldiers did not have the necessary authority to defend themselves militarily in threatening situations.
Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan, who are under much stricter rules of engagement than other NATO-led forces in the country, will now for the first time be able to use mortar grenades and armoured personnel vehicles in the northern province of Kunduz.
Carsten Spiering, spokesman for the German Armed Forces in Kundus, says it is their mission to support about 800 Afghan soldiers and about 100 Afghan police, “wherever and in every way we can.”
Germany has about 3,700 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, serving with the 65,000-strong NATO-led force.
Effort to stabilise the country ahead of presidential elections
The aim of the current offensive in northern Afghanistan, hit by an increase in Taliban-linked attacks, is to stabilize the region before presidential polls in August.
Holbrooke and Karzai worry about the safety of upcoming presidential elections
On Sunday, one of President Hamid Karzai's vice presidential candidates managed to escape unscathed from an attack by Taliban insurgents. Mohammed Qasim Fahim and his entourage were driving through Kunduz province when an unknown number of gunmen ambushed the convoy.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters, wearing suicide vests and armed with AK-47 rifles, attacked the main police station in the southeast city of Khost. Over the last six months, Khost has become one of the most dangerous cities in Afghanistan and the scene of repeated deadly attacks. The fighting left seven militants dead and 14 people wounded.
The worsening Taliban insurgency has raised concerns for the security of the polls.
In Kabul on Saturday, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged that holding elections in the middle of a war is extremely difficult, but he made it clear he believes Afghans will go to the polls all the same:
"What do you want the Afghan people to do? To abandon an election because some threats of a small minority of Taliban?” Impossible, Holbrooke says, “So you hold the best election you can under the circumstances. I say again: it is not going to be perfect."
Editor: Kateri Jochum