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German general criticizes nation's efforts in Afghanistan

Cites poor record in training police

By Judy Dempsey
International Herald Tribune / December 1, 2008
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BERLIN - Breaking with a military tradition of keeping silent about policy, a top German general has branded his country's efforts in Afghanistan a failure, singling out its poor record in training the Afghan police and allocating development aid.

The comments came from General Hans-Christoph Ammon, head of the army's elite special commando unit, whose officers are in Afghanistan fighting alongside US forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Germany was responsible for training the Afghan police, but the German Interior Ministry, led by the conservative Wolfgang Schauble, has faced criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for providing too few experts and inappropriate training.

The training operation was "a miserable failure," Ammon told DPA, the German press agency, after describing the German record in Afghanistan to a gathering last week of a reservists' association. The government has provided $15 million for training the Afghan Army and police, while the United States has given more than $1 billion, he said.

"At that rate, it would take 82 years to have a properly trained police force," he said. More damaging for Germany's reputation, Ammon said, was that its police training mission was considered such a "disaster" that the United States and EU had taken over responsibility.

The Defense Ministry said Ammon was expressing his personal views.

Even so, because such views are rare, security analysts said they showed the level of frustration building among senior military officers over German reluctance to provide adequate financing for the Afghan mission or even explain to the public why Germany has 4,500 soldiers there.

Neither Chancellor Angela Merkel nor her conservative defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung, have been willing to debate the issue publicly.

For the first time since German soldiers were sent to Afghanistan six years ago, Jung referred in November to the "Gefallene," or fallen soldiers, who had died there.

Until now, any German soldiers killed in Afghanistan were referred to as casualties. In addition, the word "Krieg," or war, has been banned from use in any Defense Ministry public statements or speeches, say advisers to the ministry.

"I keep saying that it is time the public was told why we are in Afghanistan, what is happening there, and what we are doing there," said Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, general secretary of the Christian Social Union, the party allied with the Christian Democrats led by Merkel.

Merkel, who has visited Afghanistan once in three years in office, said in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that she was prepared to defend the mission in Afghanistan in the national election campaign next year.

That could be a high-risk strategy given that the mission is highly unpopular with the public.

The foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who will run against Merkel to become chancellor, supports the mission.

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