Underappreciated, Ill-Equipped German Army to See More Action | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.09.2008
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Underappreciated, Ill-Equipped German Army to See More Action

German troops are currently involved in 11 international missions; from Afghanistan to Sudan and perhaps soon in the fight against piracy off Somalia. But in all these missions, the soldiers only want one thing: support.

Marc Wulf, crew member of the German Navy frigate Emden, kisses his girl friend Julia Schwarzbach in Wilhelmshaven, northern Germany, on Tuesday, July 29, 2008. Wulf had just returned with the ship from the Horn of Africa, where he served during the Operation Enduring Freedom for several months.

German troops enjoy the support of family and loved ones but want more from the state

The Bundeswehr's deployment against African pirates has yet to be approved but that could soon change. After numerous attacks on European vessels off the coast of Somalia, the EU wants to take charge of the situation and end the piracy.

European foreign ministers this week agreed to set up a "coordination unit" to help tackle the growing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia, with the possibility of an EU naval mission in future. That mission is more than likely to be led by the German navy, already in operation in the seas off the Horn of Africa as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Bundeswehr, currently engaged in 11 missions around the globe, will find out on Wednesday, Sept. 17, whether its mandates for UN missions will be extended by another year. The Bundestag is likely to endorse the extension that the German cabinet approved in August.

But in addition to the extended mandate, the Bundeswehr is looking for more support in its endeavors, according to Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces.

The commissioner, who works "to safeguard basic rights and to assist the Bundestag in exercising parliamentary control" over the armed forces, is essentially the voice of the military, and Robbe has made it clear that the Bundeswehr expects at least an increase in moral support at a time of extended deployments, increasing dangers and military cutbacks.

The character, range, duration and command structure of the Bundeswehr's international missions differ greatly, he said.

You and whose army?

A German Army officer, member of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, places a new EUFOR signet on the uniform sleeve of a fellow soldier at the German military base Rajlovac near Sarajevo

German, European and a member of NATO -- German troops serve under several flags

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the European Union's Force (EUFOR) commands the 850 German soldiers stationed there. In Afghanistan, the 2,700 Bundeswehr troops are under the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In Kosovo, the 2,858 German troops are assigned to NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) while the 250 soldiers off the African coast are under direct command of the US Army as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

The Bundeswehr is also waiting to see whether it will continue to be deployed as part of the United Nations' Interim Force (UNIFIL) off the coast of Lebanon. The Bundestag is to decide on an extension of this mandate in October. In total, 230 German naval troops, along with two mine-sweeper vessels, were sent to the region after the 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 to prevent the smuggling of arms.

In Sudan, 39 unarmed German soldiers and five police officers are deployed as part of the UN mission to Sudan (UNMIS). The southern deployment is a much smaller operation to the UN's UNAMID mission to the country's Darfur region where at least 300,000 civilians have been killed since 2003. Germany could still become involved in UNAMID if the original target of 26,000 soldiers for the region is reached. The Bundeswehr could contribute around 250 soldiers aiding the mission with air transport, logistics and training.

The Darfur mission currently only fulfills a third of that 26,000-strong target with just one German military advisor on hand, along with six police officers.

Has Germany got more to offer?

A german gunner on patrol off the coast of the Horn of Africa

One soldier at the front, many behind him

The overall strength of the German military could make a larger deployment in Darfur and elsewhere possible. Out of the 249,000 soldiers at its disposal, the Bundeswehr currently has 6,000 stationed outside of Germany.

However, that is not to say that these 243,000 remain uninvolved. According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces report for 2007, "hardly a troop unit remains unaffected" by Germany's overseas deployments, be it involvement in planning, execution or supply.

"We can say that approximately 34,000 soldiers are directly involved with these deployments," said Roland Vogler-Wandler, a spokesperson for the Bundeswehr at the deployment command center in Potsdam, near Berlin.

However, there are shortfalls in many areas. "There is a substantial lack of specialists such as physicians, helicopter pilots, computer experts and staff officers," Vogler-Wandler added. The consequence of which is that soldiers qualified in these areas are required to stay longer in their posts and are deployed more frequently to missions outside Germany.

Bring your own tank

As well as personnel problems, the Bundeswehr is also suffering from a lack of equipment or the continued use of outdated equipment.

"More money is needed for the chronically under-financed German Federal Armed Forces," Robbe said.

A Bundeswehr soldier uses the Tchibo telescope, seen in the inserted detail

Troops have even bought telescopes from the Tchibo coffee store

In the commissioner's 2007 report, shortfalls in basic and complicated equipment is documented; from tropical vests to armored vehicles. The report revealed that soldiers in Afghanistan have had to purchase urgently needed articles of equipment at their own expense and that navy ships returning from active duty have had to be stripped of working parts to send others back out to sea.

Regardless of this information, the possible deployment of German forces against Somali pirates is still under discussion and could be decided on by the end of the year, should the Bundestag agree to send troops out on another international mission.

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