Germany's most senior military officer General Wolfgang Schneiderhan says "now is the time to deal with the escalation" as German troops along with Afghan forces engage the Taliban in the restive region around Kunduz.
Bundeswehr troops will meet the Taliban head on
General Schneiderhan confirmed at a press conference Wednesday that some 300 Bundeswehr soldiers were engaged in the offensive in cooperation with 800 members of the Afghan security forces, and around 100 police, near the Afghan city of Kunduz.
Schneiderhan explained that the Taliban's tactics had changed in the region since March of this year when they moved away from improvised explosive devices (IED) to full-on military-style attacks. It had become necessary, he said, for the Bundeswehr’s Rapid Response Force to adapt its mission.
“No one can deny that the situation in Kunduz has developed negatively,” the general said.
The mission is an attempt to rid the region of Taliban forces ahead of presidential elections on Aug. 20. The German military is fighting under the auspice of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and has been resourced with heavy artillery including Marder armored tanks and mortars.
It is believed to be the first time that the Bundeswehr, which has much stricter rules of engagement than other NATO-led forces in the country, has deployed heavy artillery.
Jung and Schneiderhan said the rules in Kunduz had changed
A report in the Rheinische Post newspaper, quoting an unnamed Bundeswehr soldier, stated that around 300 soldiers of the Rapid Reaction Force, armed with heavy weapons, had been deployed against Taliban positions with orders to use "the full reaction force spectrum". The soldier is reported by the newspaper as saying: "We are using everything we have."
Deployment in response to deteriorating security
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung told the same press conference in Berlin that the deployment was in response to a deteriorating security situation in the province, where German troops have come increasingly under fire from Taliban forces in recent weeks.
"We are now being particularly challenged in Kunduz," Jung said.
The aim of the offensive is to "stabilize" the region before the Afghan presidential election due to be held at the end of August, Jung added.
Jung echoed General Schneiderhan's assertion when he said that the security situation in the area around the northern city of Kunduz had been deteriorating rapidly with increased ambushes by insurgents and fighting with Taliban rebels.
He quoted Bundeswehr data which showed that while many areas of Afghanistan were experiencing higher levels of unrest, the area around Kunduz had seen one of the more marked increases in violence.
Greens warn of potential for escalation
Reports say 300 German soldiers are involved
The rising level of Germany's military activities in Afghanistan - which are not formally described as a "war" - is causing discomfort at home.
The German Green Party's defense spokesperson, Winfried Nachtwei, cautioned Wednesday against "spiraling violence" and the possibility of an overly lengthy and costly mission in Kunduz.
Nachtwei said the Taliban had been given free reign in Kunduz after 500 police positions were terminated there.
Three German soldiers were killed during clashes with insurgents in Kunduz last month. The German base in the area is frequently targeted for attacks.
Recent opinion polls in Germany have suggested that a slight majority of the population is in favor of ending the military's deployment in Afghanistan.
Editor: Neil King