Generals Petraeus and McChrystal really can't complain. They could be German.
If you're still having trouble understanding the Continental European - and especially the German - difficulty in doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan - then this from Der Spiegle might help.
He's a four-star general and he heads up NATO operations in Afghanistan. But despite his expertise, Germany's top soldier Egon Ramms is virtually ignored by Berlin -- except for a meeting with Chancellor Merkel way back in 2007.That explains a lot why the German bases are excellent in AFG - but operationally ineffective. Personnel and materiel without an effective mission are just extravagant displays of logistical prowess in creating a poorly located static display.
... he is a four-star general and one of the three highest-ranking officers in the Bundeswehr. As the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in the Dutch city of Brunssum, he is also head of ISAF operations, the international military force in Afghanistan. But he's still waiting ... for a chance to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"I once spoke with Angela Merkel for 25 minutes, in 2007," he says. The sentence sounds nonchalant, making it seem as though it doesn't bother him. But he says it fairly often.
There isn't a soldier in the German military who knows Afghanistan better than Ramms does. As the operational head of ISAF, he has been to the Hindu Kush 16 times over the last three years. Still, it would seem that German politicians are not interested in what he has to say.
In February, the German parliament voted to extend the Bundeswehr's mandate in Afghanistan in addition to increasing Germany's contingent by 500 and keeping 350 more soldiers in reserve. The plan only calls for a slight deviation in strategy, which calls for German soldiers to collaborate more closely with their Afghan counterparts. It was a plan that Germany's government hammered out without consulting Ramms.
The war in Afghanistan is immensely unpopular in Germany, making General Ramms unwelcome in the country's political landscape. He is the embodiment of a mission in which Germans are killing and being killed. While most Germans would like to see their soldiers brought back home, most German politicians would like to see them stay where they are. But they try to avoid the issue when possible.
Ramms is a loyal soldier and would never openly criticize Merkel. Nevertheless, its not difficult to read between the lines. Like, for example, when Ramms speaks about US General Stanley McCrystal, the head of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and Ramms' immediate subordinate.
"McCrystal speaks with President Obama every two weeks," Ramms says. Again, his voice is impassive. Again, he mentions that he sat down with Merkel in 2007 for 25 minutes.
Recently, the Defense Committee in German parliament launched an intense effort to have an audience with General McCrystal. But the parliamentarians have yet to invite Ramms for a chat. "It's rather interesting that no one in Berlin cares much about my expertise," he says. "Other countries seem to be much more interested in speaking with me."
Ramms is exactly right here.
Ramms is the head of a mission that primarily involves Americans, Britons and Canadians in fierce combat with insurgents in the southern and western parts of Afghanistan. The German has to answer for any casualties they suffer, but he can't send any German soldiers there to help because the politicians back home won't let him. Instead, they want to keep their soldiers up north, where things are still much calmer.For years we have talked here about the original sin of giving AFG to NATO in late '05 through '06 without having a serious "come to Jesus" talk to them. Hope was the plan - and we see how that worked out. NATO never filled the forces they were supposed to - even with the rump force asked for prior to the US forces uplift '08-09.
According to one of Ramms' advisers, he finds it embarrassing that Germans refuse to let their soldiers fight in the southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The general has said similar things in person, such as when he told people attending a security conference last summer that: "Before, Germans were still concerned with impact over safety, but now it's safety over impact." When asked whether 850 additional German soldiers would be enough for Afghanistan, he said: "In their dealings with Afghanistan, the German motto is: Wash my fur, but don't get me wet. (Eds note: Idiom analogous to: "Make me an omelet, but don't break any eggs.") If they maintain this stance, they will soon lose operational command in the north."
Ramms would love a chance to tell Chancellor Merkel how to improve things for the Germans in Afghanistan. He is waiting patiently. But he doesn't expect he'll get his chance anytime soon.
Michael Yon has a similar description of the problem with some of our allies in AFG - this time the Spanish. No one is playing to win - just not to lose on their watch.
Back in '08 Uncle Sam started to take the keys back - and for good reason. The German politicians can ignore reality if they want - but it won't ignore them. AFG was a chance to Germany to come out of its sackcloth and ashes and rejoin the community of serious, responsible nations. They missed that chance, and it will be awhile before that chance comes again. Shame really - the German soldier is as good as any - all they need is the political cover to join their brothers where the fight is and lean in to create the conditions for a safe and secure environment. Instead - you can lump the German army in with the Italians and Spanish. If the Germans would lead - a lot more nations on the Continent might follow. The Dutch might not have their government collapse over AFG, etc ... etc ....