Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Getting enough face time with your CINC?

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.

... 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."
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.

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.

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.
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.

Much of that problem came from countries such as Germany whose politicians and information providers did not tell their people what was going on. They expected the Anglosphere and a few others to do their work for them - and are resentful for it. They like having their Flags outside the HQ - they like having billets to post their senior officers - but they do not want to do anything, well, military. Killing and dying, afterall, are for native English speakers and smaller nations who don't know better.

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 ....

Shape, clear, hold, build, and transfer. Shape, clear, and hold require a relatively caveat free force. You don't get the build and transfer without it. Ramms knows this. It is a shame though that the Afghans' patience isn't that of a German four-star.


hbp said...

<span>"No one is playing to win - just not to lose on their watch."</span>

<span>I just read _Dereliction of Duty_.<span>  </span>One of the errors of the Johnson/McNamara administration was planning to “not lose.”</span><span></span>

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Having the Bad Guys know that those are GERMANs that have come looking for them might not be such a bad thing either.

Kristen said...

That's a great post, CDR.

Outlaw Mike said...

It is all true. But it's the euro politicians' fault.

You don't know them from up close like I do CDR. You have heard they are spineless, but you don't *KNOW* it. Like one may have heard that sitting in a rollercoaster is scary, but one doesn't really *KNOW* that if you've never actually BEEN in one.

YNSN said...

It isn't just their politicians that ignore them.  Their citizens don't send them nearly as much care packages as we get.  I walked into COMKAF's building the other day.  KAF is run by the Brits.  Hardly anything sent to them.  Where as my little unimportant corner of the base got 3 10lbs boxes of nothing but candy yesterday.  We have so many care packages they just put them out and let people take what they want.  It's crazy. 

American's get way to much stuff, our Allies hardly get anything.  You feel like an ass as well when you take boxes over to them as well.  Even though you are trying to be nice, you feel like you're showing off.  You know?

So, if any of you are sending huge boxes of pure candy to the troops out here.  Send it to the Germans.  We've got enough.

Byron said...

My kids have a Brit friend who son is with 2 Soldiers and left the 'stan just before Christmas. We sent Andy a huge care package and he was stunned that people he'd never met before could or even would take the time to send him so many nice things.

It's all about Tommy this and Tommy that and if you don't get that, read your Kipling.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Sounds like a plan.  Where would I send a box of goodies to?

Byron said...

I'll shoot an email to Mick so he can ask his son the best way to do it. Or ask Phib for my email, would be easier.

ewok40k said...

GSG-9 at Mogadishu comes to my mind. They have the men to do the job, just no political leadership to allow that.

Quartermaster said...

<span>"the German soldier is as good as any" AND better than most. They generally out performed our troops in NATO exercises. So, it isn't a matter of ability, it's just the politicians. Like with most countries, the politicians rarely deserve their troops fidelity and valor.

Quartermaster said...

Yeah! Need an address.

Badger, how cuz you gotta avatar here but not at Lex's place? We not gud enuff for ya?

MR T's Haircut said...

The Germans Love David Hasselhoff!

GBS said...

Merkel isn't the first Chancellor to ignore/scorn the informed opinions of senior German Army officers. 

AW1 Tim said...

Absolutely. She's just following tradition.

AW1 Tim said...

I would happily send stuff to the germans and/or Brits, but I need an address. If'n ya cab get any, please post them or send them to Sal for us!

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I don't have one at Lex's, because I can't figure out how!

Byron said...

Working on it now. Currently it's going to have to ship to my friend in England then he will forward to his sons unit most of which is in the 'stan. I'll have more info by Friday latest, as my friend is now on an oil rig in the North Sea (he's a deep diver). Info has been sent to the CDR and I respectfully request that he forward on, as I'd prefer not to give Mick's address in Britain out. Anyone who wants to pitch in, just shout out.

Byron said...

(Headslap) The CDR has Micks mailing address. As long as the packages do not weigh more than 2 kilos the shipping is free from the UK to Afghanistan. And this is what Mick has to say to your offer:

As Andy's Battalion is asigned as battle casualty replacements, they are scattered all over Helmand Province, indeed Afghanistan itself. But I'm sure he'll know where his buddies are and where to send the stuff.

Anyway, many thanks Byron. It's good to know we have such great Allies - we are cousins after all - Brothers in Arms ;-)

All the best and thanks.

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