News reports out of Germany and Afghanistan indicate that the German government has okayed the creation of two, 600-man German battalions to go “on the offensive” against Taliban elements in northern Afghanistan. Partnering with Afghan Army units, the German forces will attempt to turn back the gains made by the Taliban over the past few years in this once quiet area of Afghanistan.
This decision will of course be good news to Germany’s NATO allies in Afghanistan, who have often looked at the several thousand troops Germany had deployed to the north (but kept largely under wraps) as an aggravating and wasting asset while others (such as the British, the Canadians, the Danes and the French) did the heavy combat lifting. It will also be good news to German troops who, almost to a man, are embarrassed by the caveats imposed from Berlin on what they could and (mostly) could not do when it came to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.
The fact is, since a decision in 1994 by Germany’s federal constitutional court that said it was okay for German forces to be deployed outside Germany’s borders, the German military has been involved in multiple international military operations, including the war in Kosovo in 1999. Yet, wearing the country’s history on its sleeves, consecutive German governments did little to match this increased use of the military abroad with a rhetoric that would have led the German public to appreciate the possibility that the use of military force might at times not only be necessary but also that it could serve to bring greater peace and security. For German politicians and the German public, more often than not, “peacekeeping” had little to do with the armed forces actually undertaking operations designed to “keep the peace.”
However, since October of last year, when Chancellor Merkel was reelected, the German defense ministry has been headed by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU)—by many lights, the most dynamic and popular politician in Germany. Guttenberg, it appears, is a German politician of a different strip, willing to break through some long-standing taboos when it comes to German defense and foreign policy. For Afghanistan, and the NATO-led ISAF mission there, the apparent decision to free German forces to take on the Taliban directly could not come at a better time given the fight at hand and the need for the U.S. and its allies to show progress in Afghanistan before the Obama administration’s December review of the Afghan campaign.