Op-Ed: NATO Divergence Over Afghan Airstrike is Devastating
(Source: Deutsche Welle German radio; published Sept. 7, 2009)
The NATO airstrike in Afghanistan on two fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban has sparked a fresh debate on the international military presence in the country. DW's Sybille Golte examines the repercussions.
Many questions remain unanswered following the bombing of the fuel trucks in Afghanistan: What were the circumstances that led to the decision to attack? How many civilians were among the victims? Was there an alternative to the airstrike?
It will presumably take a few days before we have the answers – a disaster, as the incident is already sending out fatal signals that are magnified in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
Message number 1: The alliance in Afghanistan appears to be more deeply split than was commonly known. Germany's Bundeswehr has been openly criticized by its partners in Washington and London – even before there are any official inquiry results. The Bundeswehr has been as harsh in its criticism of the US military, which it says deliberately leaked false information in order to discredit the German commitment in Afghanistan.
The dispute is being carried out in the media, and it is only a matter of time until it reaches the population in Afghanistan. The consequences: the Afghan people will lose faith in the process of democratization – the most important prerequisite for the success of democracy. The Taliban must be rubbing their hands in glee – the debate is grist to their propaganda mills.
Message number 2: The Taliban are present even in the supposedly secure north of the country. It seems that those who are supposed to guarantee safety there have fallen back on massive airstrikes as a means of defense. It is a situation that is not conducive to strengthening faith in the Bundeswehr or the local Afghan security forces.
Message number 3: The Bundeswehr's image as a reconstruction force has been damaged – with unforeseeable consequences. Attacks on German troops will increase. The public - in Afghanistan and in Germany – will see less of a difference between fighting the insurgency and war. The current election campaign in Germany will lead to a further emotionalization of the debate on Afghanistan.
All of this is poison for the development of Afghanistan. Allies who are at odds on one hand, an increasing number of civilian victims and a triumphant Taliban on the other hand: The basic conditions are not good for the president's second term in office, should Hamid Karsai have won the elections.
In the current German election campaign, the debate over the country's military operation in Afghanistan is foreseeable – and it is not helpful. The appeal to get German troops out of Afghanistan may garner votes, but it is by no means a stable concept for the future of Afghanistan.
Whoever wants to hazard the consequences of a new Taliban regime in Afghanistan should remember the era of its rule. The upcoming September 11 anniversary provides that opportunity; the symbolic date might help the allies realize who really is the opponent in Afghanistan.