A poorly understood aspect of the sudden NATO coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan is the role of German forces and contractors.
On June 29, Germany’s last 570 troops left from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan’s north. The last two weeks also involved withdrawing 120 armoured vehicles and six helicopters. When the withdrawal began in May, 1,100 German troops were in the country. The deployment has costed €16.4 billion by the end of 2018.
Many would be surprised that Germany had the second-largest troop presence after the US. Since 2001, 160,000 German troops have served in Afghanistan. 59 were killed in the deployment. Civilians have also been killed or wounded as a direct result of German operations. In 2009, a German Colonel ordered an airstrike which killed 100 Afghan civilians. He was later promoted in 2012.
On the 5th of July, the German Foreign Ministry said it had given 2,400 visas to Afghan employees and their relatives. It may be the case that contractors are not given safe haven in Germany, which would effectively spell a death sentence for them as the Taliban eliminates alleged collaborators.
Many across the world are still getting used to the very concept of German troops fighting overseas. The German population has viewed the role of it’s military with significant caution since World War Two. At a multilateral level, Germany served as a non-permanent member of the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council between 2019-2020. This was the sixth such term since the UN was founded. Foreign Minister Maas referred to issues of climate change, gender equality, preventing sexual violence in conflict, arms control and nuclear disarmament. Military historian Sönke Neitzel framed the German involvement as ensuring that “Germany had weight in the EU, the United Nations and above all in NATO.” However, he believes that “at the strategic level, we have learned nothing from the Afghanistan mission.” One vital theme must be the failures of full-scale military interventions and attempts at forced nation-building in other states.
In regards to the withdrawal, contractors are a thorny and nuanced presence. There were 16,000-17,000 contractors at the time the withdrawal began in May. By late 2019, approximately 3,814 military contractors have been killed in Afghanistan. It has also come as at a cost of $108 Billion to the US. As with the German troops, they have been central in enhancing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. Furthermore, they may become even more important due to the lack of US and foreign personnel. Currently, only contractors can operate the air traffic control of airports. Of vital importance to Afghan air capabilities is the fact that only contractors know how to keep the Afghan Air Force’s Black Hawk helicopters and C-130 cargo planes maintained. This reliance is a significant weak spot.
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