Germany’s Commitment to Afghanistan

Last week, three German soldiers in Afghanistan were killed when their armored personnel carrier flipped over during a fight with insurgents.  The deaths made headlines in Germany, where the war is unpopular.  Thus far, 35 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and there are currently 3,770 deployed there, although most of them are not in the southern part of the country where the combat between insurgents and NATO forces is most intense.  German political leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, will likely come under intense pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as the September parliamentary elections approach.

The Obama administration has been hoping for a larger, more long-term commitment of European soldiers to Afghanistan as it drastically increases American troop levels there this year.  If Germany starts pulling out and other NATO countries follow suit it would undermine the new American strategy, which is to protect the Afghan population from insurgent attacks while training and enhancing the capabilities of local security forces, a plan that requires a greater Western footprint on the ground.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, recently said “We are getting out [of Afghanistan]. It may take a couple of years, but we [Europeans] are all looking to get out.”

A lessening of NATO’s military commitment to Afghanistan could bring the future of the alliance into question.  Member nations have different views of what serves their interests and the nature of the security threats they face.  Many Europeans do not consider the Taliban or Al Qaeda to be as much of a danger to them as Americans do, so their commitment to a global war against Islamic extremists is likely to be more tepid than that of the US in the long term. Consequently, America might end up having to shoulder almost all of the burden when it comes to counterinsurgency operations outside of Europe.  NATO’s role in international affairs may soon be confined to containing a resurgent Russia and performing “nation-building” tasks.

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