″There is No Clear Strategy for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan″ | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.11.2006

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"There is No Clear Strategy for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan"

In an interview with DW-RADIO, Klaus Reinhardt, the former commander of the KFOR peacekeeping force in the Balkans, criticizes the German government for lacking a strategy in its deployments of the Bundeswehr.

German troops in action in Afghanistan

German troops in Afghanistan have been embroiled in a photo scandal

DW-RADIO: What would you say is the main problem with the Bundeswehr's missions abroad?

Reinhardt: Post-conflict operations have degenerated too much into military operations, rather than into combined civil-military operations. In the first phase, the military should provide for internal and external security. If you see how we do this today in our deployments, be it in Bosnia, be it in Iraq or Afghanistan, these things are not coordinated enough.

So, you're saying that it's not just the German government, it's all the governments. After all, Germany is only involved in missions that are organized by others, such as NATO, the EU or the United Nations.

Absolutely. This is not a thing that is unique to Germany. I saw this in all the nations, and if you read the book by Mr. Bob Woodward on the campaign in Iraq, you see that the Americans are still struggling for a strategy, how to cope with the problems. If you don't do this at the very start, you have very many actors in the country who all try to do the best they can, but very often they contradict each other. We had in Kosovo, and still have, some 3,500 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and international organizations. Somehow this has to be brought together in some sort of synergistic approach for the well-being of the local population.

What kind of strategy is needed?

A Bundeswehr soldier on patrol

The Bundeswehr needs to win the people's confidence

I think before we deploy into a country, the individual nations and the international community has to sit together and consider what we have to give to the country, with what means -- as in personnel, medical and financial means -- in order to make sure that in a bottom-up approach the conditions for the population are being met. It's not good enough in southern Afghanistan only to fight the Taliban and to be there with military forces if the living conditions for the people in all these villages are not being amended at the same time. This has to go hand in glove, otherwise we lose the confidence of the people for whose sake we are deployed to that particular country.

Are you saying then that the German troops and the other troops in these missions are not fulfilling a useful function right now?

No, I'm not saying that. If you look at the Balkans, the key function of the NATO forces was to stop the war, to stop the killing, to stop the atrocities. I think in this regard the forces did an excellent job and were very (much) welcomed by the people. But all these terms like liberty and democracy and freedom don't mean anything for the people as long as they don't feel they are better off. And if we cannot guarantee -- besides the stabilization of the internal situation, which has to be done by the military and the police forces -- that the living conditions are improved, the military becomes an occupation force.

There has been some criticism about the length of some of these missions, to the point that some feel that German troops go in but never come out. What aspect is there in this strategy that tells you when the troops have to get out?

German soldiers standing to attention of parade

An exit strategy should be part of the plan from the start

This is a good question. We have to establish criteria which have to be met and have to be supervised and if we have the feeling that these criteria are met to some extent, we can talk about pulling out the forces -- as the Germans try right now to do in Bosnia-Herzegovina where you have a local police, where you have some kind of local government and where you have some kind of local military forces which can take over these elements which were provided by the German contingent.

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