Taboo broken as minister says German troops at war

 

GERMANY’S NEW defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has broken a semantic taboo by admitting that German soldiers are fighting a war in Afghanistan.

Previous defence ministers avoided the word “war”, preferring to describe the Bundeswehr mission as one of “stabilisation and civilian reconstruction”.

But increasing attacks by the Taliban on German troops in the north of the country made that policy increasingly untenable.

“Certain traditional choices of words do not really work in the current situation. In parts of Afghanistan, there are, without question, conditions that are like a war,” said Mr zu Guttenberg yesterday.

“I can understand any soldier who says, ‘There is a war in Afghanistan and it doesn’t matter if it is foreign forces or Taliban terrorists attacking, wounding and killing me’.”

After nearly eight years and 36 deaths, German troop levels in Afghanistan stand at 4,300 soldiers. The DBwV, representing German soldiers, praised Mr zu Guttenberg for “finally admitting the reality”, and said it would be a big morale boost for troops.

“For months soldiers have been telling us they are at war, being killed and forced to kill,” said DBwV spokesman Wilfried Stolze.

“As a 37-year-old, the new minister has a better connection to our men and hears what they’re telling him, that the mission in Afghanistan has developed a new quality of late, with hours of running battles.”

The association has welcomed the appointment of Mr zu Guttenberg: his family has a strong Bundeswehr tradition and one of his grandfathers was involved in the failed 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

The association has called on Mr zu Guttenberg to open an honest domestic debate about the Afghanistan mission ahead of next month’s parliamentary debate on renewing the mission mandate.

Germany’s war-filled past has bred a deeply pacifist tradition in the population. Opposition parties criticised the government’s decision to avoid using the word “war”, saying it created even greater public suspicion of the unpopular mission.

Meanwhile Nato investigators have filed a report on a German-ordered military strike in September that killed up to 142 Afghan civilians. According to German media reports, the classified report found that Col Georg Klein, in ordering an air strike on a petrol tanker, did not adhere to Nato rules. Mr zu Guttenberg has asked Nato to release a non-classified version of the report.