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Michael Daxner: Germany’s Troubles in Afghanistan

Over the past few months, a public opinion firestorm has ravaged the German government as the weight of a tragic event in Afghanistan continues to press down hard on the collective conscience of the nation. The impetus for the current uproar was the bombing of two trucks in Kunduz, Afghanistan on September 4, which was ordered by German forces and resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians (estimates range from 17 to 142). Yet, what seemed to be an ugly but collateral blip on the nation’s broad foreign policy radar has turned into a veritable crisis of the first order for the lawmakers in Berlin, with the future of Germany military engagement in Afghanistan at stake. The debate could not come at a more embarrassing moment for the government. When Germany initially committed itself to sending troops to Afghanistan, it did so wanting to be the “good guy” in the war effort—the country that would “stabilize” Afghanistan with its contingent of soldier-humanitarians while the Americans did the majority of the fighting. But now, with its soldiers both in harm’s way and inadvertently doing harm, the presence of German troops on Afghan soil has become infinitely more difficult to justify to a skeptical public at home, a majority of who now want a complete withdrawal. Moreover, there’s a growing perception within Germany that the government no longer even pulls its own strings, having recently re-committed its 4,400 troops in Afghanistan to another year of duty, while lacking a significant voice either in Washington or at NATO headquarters. Still, the new strategy proposed by President Obama is promising for those in Germany who have a political stake in the intervention. The more hawkish voices within the German government have held that domestic security and freedom are being defended in the Hindu Kush. But this argument has gained little traction lately, especially among a populace that is now so ill-at-ease about Germany’s role in Afghanistan—a role that appears to be moving toward full-fledged participation in a war not of its own making. Thus, it is welcome that the new American strategy is placing greater focus on the Afghan people and society. Likewise, the military components embodied in the upcoming Afghan “surge” seem to be more rational and targeted than under Bush, while the civil programs are stronger and likely to be less scatter-shot than in the past. But even with some good news coming out of Washington these days, Berlin still needs a clear humanitarian and civil society mission to bolster the legitimacy of its involvement in the conflict. Unfortunately, new signals from both the American and German governments are blurring the lines. First, there’s the insistence on the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, as again reiterated by General Stanley McChrystal in the halls of the U.S. Congress on December 8, 2009. But of what use is such a goal, whether as part of the broader Operation Enduring Freedom or as related to policies against Al Qaeda? This goal is profoundly unpopular in Germany, both due to the lack of a clear rationale and the echoes of President Bush’s bellicose ideology.

Charles Cogan: Time for Deadlines in Afghanistan

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Swadesh M. Rana: U.S. Rediscovers the UN in Afghanistan

As the Obama administration increases the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, it seems also to be planning for a gradual disengagement and a more imminent NATO exit with an old friend and partner—the United Nations. Indeed, President Obama has rediscovered the United Nations, and hopes the global body can help set the stage for a graceful exit without dominating the scene. It won’t happen, though, by replacing the 90,000 U.S. and NATO troops now committed there with another UN peacekeeping operation or by creating a new organizational unit in the Secretariat that Washington has often berated as cumbersome, top-heavy, and wasteful. The disengagement task is entrusted instead to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that was established after the U.S.-led military action to overthrow the Taliban regime. Building upon the UN experience in Afghanistan since 1982—after the Soviet troop withdrawal from an inconclusive and costly war that began in 1979—UNAMA was tasked with two civilian missions in 2001: development and humanitarian issues, and political affairs. It is now headed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative, Kai Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat who has represented his country at NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and whose appointment to this position in March 2008 was fully supported by the United States and NATO. With a current staff of 1,500, around 80 percent of whom are Afghan nationals, UNAMA is now called upon to strike a balance between the military and civilian components of international assistance to Afghanistan by some 80 countries, 20 international agencies, and 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). An immediate task for UNAMA is to prepare for and ensure fair, impartial, and credible elections in Afghanistan this August. Underlying this act of faith in the UN to secure the elections is a long overdue and more nuanced U.S. view of the nature of the global threat of terror, Al Qaeda and Taliban operations in southwest Asia, and the terroristic activities in Afghanistan. The Bush administration saw Afghanistan as the headquarters of Al Qaeda that could be destroyed after a military ouster of the Taliban regime. It viewed Al Qaeda as a global monolith of Islamic fundamentalism with a well-defined chain of command that could be broken with superior intelligence and military action. And, of course, it wanted Osama bin Laden dead or alive—with the help of a democratically elected President Hamid Karzai after his interim installation with U.S. support. The Obama administration sees the global terror network as less of a monolith driven by Islamic fundamentalism and more a labyrinth of organized crime, drug cartels, illicit arms traffic, contraband trade, political dissidence, and individual disaffection. It is looking at southwest Asia as the crossroads of terrorism and nuclear proliferation with a growing collusion between the ideologically driven, militant Taliban and disaffected groups opposed to the ruling regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also mindful that the current government in Afghanistan lacks true legitimacy. Indeed, the 2001 presidential elections in Afghanistan were boycotted by 50 percent of the electorate amidst vociferous local resentment over some voters casting their ballot twice and others supporting candidates who were encouraged to withdraw their names so that the U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai could be declared the clear winner.



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