German Soldiers in Afghanistan Protest

Defense Tech reports that German soldiers in Afghanistan are silently protesting against the perceived ambiguity of their mission’s purpose by snapping up patches that read “I fight for Merkel.”

The patches, technically illegal, are a big seller among German soldiers at Mazār-e Sharīf. The country’s ISAF forces have been hit hard in recent weeks, losing seven of their troops during the last month alone. Forty-four Germans have been killed since they first entered Afghanistan eight years ago. Adding to the losses is frustration with the relatively restrictive rules of engagement under which Bundeswehr personnel is forced to operate. Only under the rarest of circumstances may they aid fellow NATO countries in combat outside of their own zone.

Increasingly, German public opinion is turning against the mission. So much as 80 percent of the people is now in favor of pulling German forces out of Afghanistan. As more lives are lost, opposition to the mission is steadily mounting.

The government has in part itself to blame. From the start, politicians tried to portray the Afghan mission as little more than a police effort, stressing aid and development work while downplaying the very real risks involved. “Deaths, injuries, battles and heavy weaponry — none of these suit the picture that was painted back then,” observed the Financial Times Deutschland earlier this week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure to explain just what German troops are fighting and dying for is cause for concern both at home and abroad. German troops, evidently, are equally disheartened by their political leadership’s inability to state explicitly for once what their comrades are sacrificing their lives for.

With over 4,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, Germany is the third largest contributor to ISAF in terms of numbers. Germany leads the Regional Command North which oversees the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Kunduz and Takhar.

Greece Continues to Divide Europe

German chancellor Angela Merkel met head on with the European Commission on the Greece question over the weekend. Chairman José Barroso is pushing European governments to commit to a Greek bailout this Thursday when member states convene in Brussels. Merkel is having none of it.

The chancellor declared on German radio on Sunday that no bailout is being considered. The Greeks themselves, after all, haven’t asked for help, she said. Barroso responded in today’s Handelsblatt, urging European states to find a solution, regardless of their internal politics. Read more “Greece Continues to Divide Europe”

Euro Resentment Demands New Rules

Euroskepticism is abound anew. Where previously economist Paul Krugman argued that Greece could have weathered its fiscal crisis if it had retained its own currency, Judy Dempsey reports that Germans are increasingly nostalgic for their Deutsche Mark.

“For Germans,” writes Dempsey, “the mark was more than just currency.” It represented the country’s postwar recovery, the Wirtschaftswunder that made Germany within mere decades the strongest economy of Europe.

Should they be forced to bail out an ailing eurozone neighbor as Greece, Spain, maybe Portugal, “resentment against Europe and the common currency” would certainly intensify among most Germans.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is in a tough spot. “She knows that the euro has been good for Germany, despite the resentment.” Stable exchange rates have encouraged trade and growth. “But bailing out Greece would be terribly unpopular.” Read more “Euro Resentment Demands New Rules”

Merkel Government Under Pressure

Pressure is building on German chancellor Angela Merkel and her defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, to account for the German-ordered NATO attack in Afghanistan last September that killed 142 people, many of them civilians.

Guttenberg, formerly minister for economics, took charge of the Defense Department last October as member of Chancellor Merkel’s second cabinet. The rising star of the German conservative party, Guttenberg outranked Merkel as the country’s most popular politician but he has come under siege from the Social Democrats, the former coalition partners, for changing his position on the Afghanistan attack.

Initially, Guttenberg called the bombings “appropriate” but three weeks ago, he claimed the opposite after assessing the incident in greater detail.

Germany’s previous defense minister already resigned over the affair and Guttenberg himself has discharged a top defense official and a state secretary for supposedly withholding information. Now, a parliamentary inquiry has been produced to study the bombings all the more thoroughly.

Although all but one of Germany’s political parties support the Afghan mission, there exists something of an obsession to wage a “clean” war there regardless of the changed circumstances. While the Taliban has gained ground, parliament’s mandate remains unchanged: German soldiers are to aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to be involved in any fighting.

The Social Democrats are leading the charge that seems specifically aimed at Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He and the chancellor are to appear before committee next January. Yet the Social Democrats were the ones in power when the country decided to contribute to ISAF and they were still in power when the bombings occurred. Holding the man who has been defense minister for barely two months responsible seems utterly hypocritical and largely a political move before anything else.