The German army assumed command of peacekeeping operations in northern Afghanistan. Over four years after deployment in the country, the Bundeswehr faces a dangerous situation, said Germany's defense minister.
Four and a half years after being deployed in Afghanistan, the German army or Bundeswehr took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the northern half of the country on Wednesday. The new responsibility has come at a time when violence has risen in Afghanistan, highlighted this week by unrest in Kabul and the killing of aid workers in the north.
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung described the situation as dangerous for German troops who will be stationed in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in the new area of assignment. The possibility of isolated ambushes by Taliban militia was real, he said.
"That is what worries us the most at the moment," Jung told German public television ARD on Wednesday.
Some critical of division of duties
Currently 2,850 German soldiers are part of the NATO-led ISAF mission. By the end of the year, 1,700 of them will be stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif. Although northern Afghanistan is quieter than the east and the south, German Brigadier General Markus Kneip described the situation there as "not calm and unstable."
The head of Germany's Armed Forces Association, Bernhard Gertz, expressed his doubts about the overall order of the international peace mission. In an interview with the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung, he said Germany's mission wasn't based on a "sound concept." Gertz was also critical of the division of responsibilities between the countries involved, which he said did not function properly. Thirty-nine nations in have troops in Afghanistan.
Without any adjustments in these areas, the goal to improve the lives of the Afghans would not be achieved, Gertz said.
Violent week, violent summer ahead
The new Bundeswehr assignment in the north comes on the heels of a bloody week that saw close to 20 people killed in violence in the capital, Kabul. In the north, the area where German forces have taken over security operations, three international aid workers and their Afghan driver were shot dead by supposed Taliban rebels.
US commanders in Afghanistan admitted on Wednesday that American soldiers might have shot at unarmed civilians in Kabul who had been outraged by the killing of five people when a US military truck rammed into civilian cars on Monday. US Colonel Tom Collins said there were signs that American soldiers used their weapons "in self-defense."
The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that following the recent unrest in Afghanistan, a "bloody summer" was to be expected.
"The Taliban think that the NATO countries are weak and that the Europeans will run away if they strike hard now," he said.
Neumann complimented the German forces for their engagement thus far, but he warned that the relatively safe north could expect conditions like that in the rest of the country this summer.
NATO has said that despite the current instability in Afghanistan, operations there should be extended to the whole country. Bundeswehr spokesman Markus Werther underscored that Germany's new role in the north sent a clear signal to the Afghan government that NATO would continue to support it.
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