Germany’s Merkel under siege after Afghanistan airstrike
The deadliest use of force by German troops since World War II has ignited a debate among an increasingly skeptical electorate.
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Horst Bacia, defense columnist for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, offered a typical reaction: The bombing “is having a sobering effect on the home front, where people have long viewed the [Afghan] mission through rose-tinted spectacles. Why is it so hard for politicians to give convincing reasons for it?”Skip to next paragraph
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Across Europe, politicians may be chary of raising the unpopular war with the public, but they strongly back the UN and NATO deployment. French defense minister Hervé Morin, when asked Sept. 3 if there should be a debate on the French mission, said the debate had already taken place in parliament.
“What would happen if the international community left?,” Mr. Morin asked. “The bell would toll ... there would be absolute chaos in Afghanistan,” he said, and the state could again be a terrorism stronghold.
In recent polls, 66 percent of the British and 64 percent of the French electorate said they wanted the Afghan mission ended. Some 22 percent of Italians want an immediate withdrawal, and 34 percent favor gradual withdrawal.
Of the 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, 17,000 come from France, Britain, and Germany. The 4,500 German forces in Afghanistan have led civil reconstruction efforts in the north, away from the fighting – until now.
German, French, and British leaders in Berlin this week supported the civil and military missions in the aftermath of the Afghan elections in the short term, but questioned mid- to long-term troop commitments.
“We will help with training and civilian reconstruction, but the goal is not to lose sight of a sustainable security structure in Afghanistan,” Merkel said after the meeting, and in the wake of the Kunduz airstrike. ““We must move forward decisively on this, and as the Afghans take on more responsibility for their security, then the international engagement can be reduced.”
“You have the Brits on the one hand and the Germans on the other, both looking at this differently,” says François Heisbourg, special advisor to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “But there’s a questioning on both sides of the Atlantic – what should we do next? Karzai is looking like a South Vietnamese dictator – vote fraud, corruption. It’s getting tricky.”
Is Afghanistan worth fighting for?