'We Hope Canada Will Continue Its Commitment in Afghanistan': Germany
by Scott Taylor
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Published November 26 2008
EMBASSY PHOTO: JEFF DAVIS
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.
Over the past few years, Germany has come under frequent criticism from NATO allies for its contributions to and conduct in Afghanistan. Despite this, it remains a major contributor to the mission and, unlike Canada, has not set a date for withdrawal.
On Nov. 25, German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung made his first official visit to Ottawa. He sat down for an exclusive interview with Embassy columnist Scott Taylor. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation:
The German government has just approved a significant increase to their military commitment in Afghanistan. Was it difficult to get this approval passed through parliament?
"In recent weeks, Germany's participation in the International Security Assistance Force has been discussed in detail and with great seriousness in the general public as well as in the media and in political circles.
"In October, the German parliament approved the request of the federal government to continue the participation of German armed forces in ISAF by a broad majority. I am very grateful for this because our deployed soldiers can now be assured of this support.
(Of the 570 members of parliament who were present in the German parliament on Oct. 16, 442 approved.)
Is participation in the mission a controversial subject of public debate?
"According to the latest surveys, 64 per cent of the population support the Afghanistan mission in principle. This support of the population is as important for the motivation of our deployed soldiers as the backing of parliament and must therefore be sustained on a long-term basis. It is our task as politicians to explain the necessity and purpose of the mission to the people."
While Canadian politicians and pundits frequently chastised Germany for not accepting a larger role in Afghanistan, your armed forces have other commitments around the globe. How thinly is the German military stretched in terms of manpower?
"Germany has currently deployed more than 7,000 troops worldwide on 10 different missions. To me it is important to make sure that our soldiers get the necessary breaks between deployments. This is the only way to achieve the required long-term sustainability because at the end of the day it is always the human beings, our troops and their families, who carry the burdens equally and perform their mission."
Now that Obama has been elected president in the U.S., and he has vowed to increase the American troop presence in Afghanistan, do you think there will be an increased pressure on NATO to match that surge?
"In a speech that Barack Obama delivered in Berlin in July, he said that it was time to renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan. The Germans stand by his side. For the people in Afghanistan and for the security in our home countries, we must not waver in our commitment.
"Without the international community and the German armed forces, reconstruction and the establishment of political stability would not be possible. There can be no development without security but neither can there be security without development!
"Soldiers alone are not the solution. Both in the international community and in NATO, we must combine all our efforts and pool all our resources. We want NATO to be successful in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, sustainability and continuity are the guarantors of success. This is the only way to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming the training centre of international terrorism."
What would Germany's position be if asked to commit even more forces?
"Germany's commitment to Afghanistan with military and civilian forces is substantial. We are the third biggest troop contributor in Afghanistan and with the new parliamentary mandate, we now have the possibility of deploying an additional 1,000 troops. We need this option particularly to provide even more effective military support in the election year 2009, which is so important for the future of Afghanistan....
"In the future, we will provide up to seven teams of instructors for the training of up to 7,500 troops. And we help in building up important military schools for the Afghan army.
"In addition, Germany has increased its civilian assistance from 80 million to 179 million Euros annually. Under the comprehensive approach, it is now essential to bolster the military successes by civilian measures such as reconstruction and police training. The stabilization of the country and civilian reconstruction must go hand in hand.
"Our commitment in Afghanistan is, contrary to what some may believe, not primarily a military operation. The international community and the Afghan government must both play their part. Let us give our commitment in Afghanistan a chance to deliver."
Last year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was highly critical of the way in which NATO was fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan—particularly in the volatile south. Were his comments warranted?
"In NATO we should discuss even more intensively the steps that are necessary to optimize our approach. In this we should focus on the right balance between military and civilian measures, which complement each other and are interdependent....
"The further development of NATO's Afghanistan strategy is a topic at every one of our meetings. We will confront the challenges together in the alliance and, above all, together with Afghanistan. In this we must not forget that security in Afghanistan needs an 'Afghan face' if it is to last. What is already working in Kabul must also become possible in other parts of the country. This is what we are working for."
In your opinion what is working in terms of the international intervention in Afghanistan?
"In spite of visible progress, the development process in Afghanistan remains difficult in the seventh year of reconstruction both for Afghanistan itself and for the international community.
"In 2008, the NATO summit in Bucharest and the Paris Afghanistan Conference set major landmarks for the further reconstruction of the country. It is my clear belief that reconstruction will succeed if civilian and military measures are co-ordinated within a comprehensive, networked approach, the Afghan government is more closely involved, and the regional environment is also adequately taken into account.
"In this context, I explicitly welcome the stronger co-ordinating role of UNAMA under the leadership of Kai Eide."
Where are we failing?
"Great challenges remain. We see corruption, bad governance, slow development in rural areas and, not least, an increasingly difficult security situation.
"The stabilization of the country and civilian reconstruction must work more hand in glove. Our commitment in Afghanistan is, contrary to what some may believe, not primarily a military mission. The international community and the Afghan government must also play their role. For this we need perseverance, strong nerves, and patience.
Canada has announced that we will terminate our military mission to Afghanistan in December 2011. Does Germany have a similar end date in mind or do you have a different exit strategy?
"Together with the Afghan government, the international community has set itself the goal of fighting terrorism and establishing a state under the rule of law and democratic institutions. Germany's commitment to support Afghanistan in building up a functioning state founded on the rule of law is oriented along the lines of this endeavour.
"Against the backdrop of the most recent attacks, the establishment of stable internal structures remains a top priority for Afghanistan and the international community. We will be able to exit the country once self-sustaining peaceful development is guaranteed. Sustainability overrides time considerations.
"We hope that Canada will also continue its substantial commitment in Afghanistan."