Berlin and its allies are supposed to agree to a new strategy for Afghanistan in London on Thursday. But the Germans only appear to be willing to consider how quickly they can withdraw their troops from the strife-torn country.
A swift exit certainly would find strong domestic backing, but such a move would do little to advance the objectives of the mission in Afghanistan. Instead, the government and opposition should come together to discuss soberly what can be achieved and then provide the funds necessary to make it happen.
Germany supplies the third-largest military force in Afghanistan. But the allies aren't happy that German troops have long been kept away from the real fighting by refusing to wade into the embattled regions in the southern and eastern corners of the country. This would have been possible under guidelines for providing emergency assistance according to the mission's parliamentary mandate. But this is where Germany's Afghanistan policy reaches its limits, and is made all too clear by the cautious proposals Berlin is taking to the London conference.
The Germans stubbornly cling to their position even though it has led to considerable friction within NATO. For years, the Germans have avoided a confrontation by gradually expanding the scope of its overly restrictive mandate. This has reduced Germany's influence within the transatlantic alliance. Even now, with an eye to the new US strategy for Afghanistan, the game continues.
What's really needed is a new orientation on the mission's objectives, not on a quick end to the military deployment. Germany should focus on the long-term stability of Afghanistan in London and not a premature deadline for the timing and pace of the Bundeswehr's eventual withdrawal. Commitments in London should show Germany will remain committed until success has been achieved – but what's being proposed by Berlin at the London conference simply won't be enough. There needs to be more operational flexibility.
Nobody expects the Germans to take over the regional command in the south, but Berlin should give up its position of keeping its troops limited strictly to the north. The idea that the Germans could avoid the challenges faced by Americans or British was proven to be a falsehood by the deadly air strike last Septeberm near Kunduz. The German military should be present where it can confront the Taliban. Using combat troops for training purposes is effectively tantamount to avoiding Germany's military responsibilities in Afghanistan.
The government must also offer financial incentives for volunteers from state police officers to spend time in Afghanistan and cover the complete costs of their training missions. The states now have to cover the foreign deployment and cannot fund replacements back at home.
But security in Afghanistan also has to be filled with life. Rebuilding efforts have to continue, even in combat zones, to show Afghans there is hope.
Germany has the opportunity in London to commit to reasonable objectives for a determined mission. But a strategic discussion in Berlin about truly ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan is long overdue.
Dr. Henning Riecke is a member of the Security Policy department of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Translation by The Local.