The realities of Afghanistan

The media agree: the West, above all the US, has failed militarily in Afghanistan. It was clear from the beginning that Afghanistan was a "failed state" and that the mission therefore had another task, which was probably the more important one.

The civilian elements of the Afghanistan mission and the criticism of it

An essential part of the German mission in Afghanistan was the restoration of state structures in Afghanistan on the basis of the "Convention on Provisional Regulations in Afghanistan for the Restoration of Permanent State Institutions", the so-called "Bonn Agreement" of 5 December 2001. After that, according to the Afghanistan concept of the Federal Government

Only visible reconstruction efforts could show the population a peaceful perspective. This concept is based on the plan of the UN Special Envoy Brahimi, which is based on a consensus reached by him between all major political groups in Afghanistan (with the exception of the Taliban). Within two and a half years, human, financial, civilian and military support from the international community should support the reconstruction of Afghanistan to the extent that state, private and civil society structures could develop and consolidate step by step.

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) should play an important role in the reconstruction. These were teams made up of soldiers and civilian experts who were to create "islands of stability and security" in the Afghan provinces beyond the capital Kabul and strengthen the influence of the Kabul government. Under the mandate of the NATO-led ISAF, the PRTs had developed differently depending on the region and the leading nation. However, almost all PRTs had a strong civil or development component. However, only at the German PRTs in Kunduz and Feyzabad did the civilian and military components work together "integrated" and on an equal footing under an overall political mandate. This meant that the German PRTs were led by a "double top" – a representative of the Foreign Office and one of the Federal Ministry of Defense.

Within the civilian component, representatives of the Federal Ministry for Civil Cooperation and Development and the Federal Ministry of the Interior (here police training) worked together with representatives of the Federal Foreign Office. Thus, the civilians in the German PRT were subject to the military command only in terms of security, but not in diplomatic and development issues. The decisive legitimation for both elements of the mission, the civilian and the military, was provided by the civilian with its classic "state-building" component. However, the German Bundestag has only ruled on the military part.

A snapshot of the military part: from 2005 to 2006, the number of suicide attacks increased from 21 to 139, attacks with improvised explosive devices increased from 783 to 1,677 and the number of direct attacks on international forces tripled from 1,558 to 4,552. The US military recorded 98 deaths, the remaining international troops another 93. The media largely agreed that the war could not be won. The Taliban's resupply is via a 2,560 km border from Pakistan. If it is not effectively controlled, "nation building" in Afghanistan is impossible. In a survey in 2007, 57 percent of Germans supported an end to the military mission. At the beginning of 2013, die Welt headlined: "Afghanistan deployment is a failure for Germans". At least every second German citizen rejected the mission, only 38 percent were behind the mission, according to a population survey by the Social Science Institute of the Bundeswehr.

But the civilian elements of the mission had also developed very problematically. With the ZIF analysis 04/05, the American, the British and the German model of PRTs were examined. Without a uniform concept and coherent planning, the PRTs emerged from a deficit situation, which consisted in the fact that ISAF could not guarantee sufficient security for peace nation building nationwide. The US was the first to set up the PRTs, followed by the UK and Germany. However, all three chose very different models, based on specific military doctrines, institutional preconditions and national thinking about the right approach to crisis prevention and reconstruction. This had consequences:

The basic problem of the US PRTs was the simultaneous conduct of combat operations and reconstruction. This led not only to the instrumentalization of humanitarian aid, but also to a strong inconsistency in the objectives of the American intervention. To achieve a successful "war on terror", measures were applied, such as, in particular, the rearmament and support of local warlords, which were obviously counterproductive for the achievement of humanitarian goals. The British-led PRTs, also under sole military leadership, faced similar problems.

The German PRT under a civil-military "dual leadership" was based on an interdepartmental program with a division into military, foreign policy and development policy "pillars", for which a steering group of the participating ministries was responsible. It should advance civilian construction in accordance with the Afghanistan concept. An important instrument was the cooperation between governmental and semi-governmental organizations as well as NGOs, i.e. the German Development Service (DED), the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW). Among the NGOs were primarily the Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (DWHH), the Working Group Development and Skilled Workers (AGEF) and others.

However, most German and international NGOs were sceptical about the German PRT concept. The mixing of humanitarian and military activities endangers aid workers and violates the neutrality of NGOs (as with the US and British PRTs). The politicization of humanitarian aid erodes the aid organizations' own protective mechanisms. Above all, the German PRT has by far the highest military share, although it is the only PRT with civilian participation and focuses most on tasks in the civilian sector. A special problem lies in the fact that the largest poppy cultivation areas in Afghanistan are located in the area of operation of the Germans. The German attitude is that the Bundeswehr should secure Kunduz, but leave the warlords and their drug trade alone. Thus, the German attitude was explicitly different from that of the US and the British.

This criticism has been examined in detail in an SWP study. The study focused on three questions:

The conclusion of the study showed many contradictions, but above all far too little international effort:

U.S. actions were counterproductive

First of all, the military: the US bombed Afghanistan for years. In implementation of Obama's "No boots on the bottom" concept, thousands of civilians and (supposed) military personnel were killed by combat drones. "We shot an incredible number of people, but as far as I know, none of them turned out to be a threat."This is how the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 17.08.2021 quotes US General Stanley McChrystal about US warfare. The quote is from 2009. It had not gotten better since then. On the contrary: " Civilians were killed in night house searches, later in drone attacks." The consequence was an "alienation of the Afghan population from the foreign troops".

The newspaper also cites the problem of blatant corruption and the responsibility of the West for it. The problem was billions of so-called aid money that fell into the wrong pockets under the eyes of the donors. The US itself has been investigating the problem for years – but without consequences. In March 2021, a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said: "As has been reported for a long time, foreign aid has distorted the Afghan economy and worsened the corruption problem." The newspaper writes: "Billions of dollars in development aid have gone to Afghanistan." But also: "Currently, 14 million people in Afghanistan do not have enough to eat." She writes: "The West supported a government of Kleptocrats for years." And: "The corruption in Afghanistan was so pervasive in the end that people could not have a certificate authenticated, could not have an identity card drawn up without paying bribes." So the Afghans "had enough of the state", "which was more facade than institution".

The newspaper also mentions the 2019 publish Afghanistan Papers:

"The Afghanistan Papers - never forget!

mw. The Afghanistan Papers were published in the Washington Post on December 9, 2019 and hit the world like a bomb. They included hundreds of interviews with senior military and civilian leaders of the Afghan war, on the basis of which John Sopko, US Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR), wrote a report on behalf of the US Congress. The results of the interrogations were so catastrophic that the US government wanted to keep the report secret. However, journalist Craig Whitlock fought for years to get the documents published and eventually succeeded.

The outrage in the media worldwide after the report in the Washington Post was great. For example, Der Spiegel wrote: "A 2,000-page report exposes how the US government and military systematically glossed over the conflict. The report has now been released, thanks to a lawsuit." The insight from the interviews: "Not a single one of the generals or high officials actually believed in a positive course of the operation or even a victory during his deployment. Nevertheless, they all publicly claimed the opposite." Because the respondents assumed that their statements would not be made public, they spoke openly.

Der Spiegel quotes some statements from decision-makers:

General Douglas Lute, chief adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on Afghanistan: "We lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan – we didn't know what we were doing. We didn't have the faintest glimmer." Dan McNeill, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan (2003/2004 and 2007/2008): "There was a lot of talk, but there was no plan. I tried to define what 'winning' means, but no one could tell me that." Michael Flynn, Lieutenant General in Afghanistan and later National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump: "We had no idea what our job was."

Only one and a half years have passed since the Afghanistan Papers were published. So much suffering and destruction, so many dead and injured, the destruction of the country of Afghanistan and its population – have you forgotten?"


Ähnlich zivil-militärische Verflechtungen herrschen auch in Mali. Seit 2013 gibt es eine UN-Friedensmission in Mali, die "Multidimensionale Integrierte Stabilisierungsmission der Vereinten Nationen in Mali" (französisch: "Mission multidimensionelle intégrée des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation au Mali"; daraus leitet sich die offizielle Abkürzung MINUSMA ab).

The UN mission is based on UN Security Council Resolution 2100 of 25 April 2013. It stated as objectives support for the restoration of state authority, support for a "national political dialogue" and the electoral process, promotion of human rights and the protection of UN personnel in Mali. The Bundeswehr has been involved in MINUSMA since the beginning of the mission. In doing so, the soldiers carry out a "robust UN mandate": that is, they are allowed to defend them and themselves with the weapon in the event of attacks against civilian persons and are equipped accordingly. However, MINUSMA does not participate in the fight against terrorists. This task is taken over by the more than 5,000 French soldiers temporarily stationed in the Sahel zone.

The Bundestag must regularly extend the Bundeswehr's mandate to participate in MINUSMA. The upper limit of the Bundeswehr soldiers deployed was extended over the years from 150 (from 2013) to 650 (from 2016) and 1,000 (from 2017) to 1,100 soldiers (from 2018). At the beginning of July 2021, about 880 Bundeswehr soldiers were in Mali as part of MINUSMA.

In addition to the UN mission, there has also been a training mission of the European Union since 2013, the "European Union Training Mission Mali" (EUTM Mali). The aim is to train security forces of the government of Mali to ensure stability in the country. The focus is in particular on the training and further education of managers.

Finally, there is the "EU Capacity Building Mission in Mail" (EUCAP Sahel Mali). It was launched on 15 April 2014 under the European Union's "Common Security and Defence Policy" (CSDP) as a civilian reconstruction mission to support local security forces in Mali and contribute to strengthening internal security. This is done through the training and education of the police, National Guard and gendarmerie. The mission area is Mali, with the headquarters in the capital Bamako. in 2014, the Federal Republic of Germany participated in the mission with ten police officers and other civilian consultants. In total, the mission consists of 20 police officers and 63 civilians.

A purely military operation is the "Opération Barkhane" of the French, an anti-terrorist mission hated because of the many civilian casualties among the population. It is now to be canceled. The head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Bamako also criticizes the preponderance of the "military".

The dangers lie above all in the clashes between moderate Islamists and jihadist terrorism. They are the main weak point of Western efforts to influence.

The statement of the EKD Chamber of Public Responsibility "The Mission in Afghanistan: Tasks of Evangelical Peace Ethics"

The Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) took up this criticism of the Afghanistan mission in a statement. In her 2007 Peace Memorial, she had already dealt with the concrete effects of the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan and pointed out that the soldiers of the peace mission were increasingly regarded as "occupiers" (Rz 150). Military action is not everything. Rather, the international community must "assume full responsibility". The coexistence of attempts to bring about military security and to rebuild the country must be well coordinated. It is necessary to develop an "overall peace policy concept".

The discussion in the church obviously continued. "Nothing is good in Afghanistan", said the then EKD Council Chairman Margot Käßmann at the beginning of 2010. A "sometimes heated" debate followed on the questions: Was the Bundeswehr deployment in the Hindu Kush justified, were the means justifiable? And then the EKD presented a very concise new paper, "Blessed are the peacemakers." The mission in Afghanistan: Tasks of Evangelical peace ethics:

This statement by the EKD Chamber of Public Responsibility, chaired by the former President of the Federal Constitutional Court, Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Papier, was initiated by a delegation led by the Council Chairman Nikolaus Schneider in February 2011. The Chamber was instructed to discuss the Afghanistan mission on the basis of the model of Just Peace in the EKD Peace Memorandum of 2007. In its assessment, the Chamber has dealt – sometimes controversially, what is put on the table – with the German military commitment in Afghanistan and the "*limits of law-abiding military force " - and the finding is devastating. From the beginning, there was no" peace and security policy overall concept "on the ground.

In this context, the Board considered the legitimacy of the original intervention decision. Part of the Chamber argued for the constant verification of the legitimacy of the requirement of intervention and the acceptance of a revision. Another section stressed the importance of unpredictable developments and considered flexible responses to be legitimate. However, from the outset, the basic decision on military intervention must take into account unforeseen circumstances with the utmost care. A part of the Chamber saw the argument of alliance solidarity rather critical: It was denied, "that the point of view of alliance solidarity in case of doubt may take precedence over peace ethical and legal self-ties".

The Chamber also recalled that the decisions taken at the Petersberg Conference in autumn 2001 were flawed in that "significant parts of civil society, including opposition forces (in particular Afghan women's groups), had been excluded" and "had not been given a voice in the intended political process".

In any case, the acceptance of the concepts developed on the Petersberg had been permanently impaired. It should be explored whether not every mandate of an armed peace mission should always be provided with a peace-political civilian concept. In this way, any military operation would be integrated into a necessarily civilian perspective and measured against it. The declared goal of civil conflict prevention could be strengthened by incorporating and expanding the planned competences (Action Plan for civil crisis prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building, departmental committee, Bundestag subcommittee). The Chamber consistently argued for a change in the procedure for mandating missions by the Bundestag. It is obvious to "involve the military part in a comprehensive mandate in which the civilian peace policy goals and measures are concretized".

The Chamber also skewered another precarious issue, the American "Counter insurgency/COIN" General Strategy. On the one hand, this strategy aims to "win the loyalty of the civilian population and isolate the insurgents" through a broad spectrum of civil-military action. On the other hand, there is an increased focus on "*covert operations *" by special forces, the targeted killing of insurgents and terrorism suspects and attacks with combat drones. The killing of Osama bin Laden on 01.05.2011 by a command of American Navy Seals on Pakistani territory is also addressed: "*Whether the intention was to capture him and bring him to justice is at least doubtful." There were also conflicting positions on this issue: one considered the use of combat drones to be incompatible with international humanitarian law. The other position denied that there is an "institutionalized practice of targeted killing of non-state violent actors who do not directly participate in hostilities". Reference was made to the discussion on combatant status under international law.

The EKD's peace memorandum and the Chamber's plea for an extension of the parliamentary reservation met with a public discussion that, on closer inspection, was by no means a one-size-fits-all. On the one hand, Federal President Gauck and Federal Minister of Defense von der Leyen argued that Germany must take on more "military responsibility" again. Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier also wanted to involve Development Aid Minister Gerd Müller in the preparation of mandating foreign missions, who had already expressed great awareness of the problem with his first public remarks and the will to intervene with the involvement of the United Nations. Therefore, an amendment to the Parliamentary Participation Act, which makes the civilian objectives of conflict resolution the object of security for a military operation, could be a step towards stable peace.

Conclusions for the parliamentary reservation

This finding must have consequences for the parliamentary reservation. This is because Parliament's reservation derives its justification from the fact that the specific task at stake here was not yet conceivable at the time of Germany's approval of the Charter of the United Nations. With the Afghanistan mission, Germany was for the first time integrated into a comprehensive mission of the United Nations as a system of collective security with a very far-reaching and above all civilian mission. In such a case, the question of the scope of the original parliamentary approval also arises anew.

However, the Bundestag should actually have dealt with it at the time of the first mandate of 22.12.2001, especially since the justification at that time was that the participation of armed German forces was a significant contribution by Germany to the implementation of the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan set in motion on the Petersberg. At that time, however, it was not yet clear whether and with which instruments the success of the German contributions to this reconciliation process could be guaranteed. In addition, the Bundestag – and the federal government – lacked the experience with such a comprehensive and novel mandate. Today, the situation has changed: if the Bundestag wanted to answer for the continued presence of German troops in Afghanistan, it should have checked whether the intended reconciliation process is actually progressing. Assuming that the "war against the Taliban" cannot be won, only the civilian elements could have decided on the success of the mission. Only the Bundestag could have been responsible for their equipment and possibly increase.

This means for the procedure in general: The Bundestag must instruct the Federal Government to first give it its own comprehensive, i.e. the military and the civilian elements, situation report with its own assessment. The Bundestag must debate it. He must then decide independently how he wants to set the course. It is precisely the expansion of civil commitment that interferes with Parliament's budgetary sovereignty with the increase in financial resources required for this purpose. Whether and to what extent the military part will continue depends on the prognosis of the success of the civilian part.


§ 3 Para. 2 of the Parliamentary Participation Act should be supplemented as follows:

"The application of the Federal Government contains information in particular on:

  • the reason for the deployment in the conflict area,
  • the result of the examination of whether, to what extent and with what result efforts of a civil conflict settlement were successful, [new]
  • the presentation of the elements of a comprehensive conflict settlement with determination of the German contribution; in strict respect of the peace commandment of the Basic Law, [new]
  • the tasks of the Bundeswehr in establishing secure conditions and securing conflict settlement,
  • the field of application,
  • the international and federal legal bases of deployment"

The Representation of the people would decide in a comprehensive sense on the possibilities of a civil conflict settlement and the participation of the Bundeswehr in its protection. Comprehensive peacekeeping would therefore be a parliamentary task.

No conflict with the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court

Such a change in the law would probably not conflict with the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court. The court had based the parliamentary reservation in the "out-of-area" judgment of 12.07.1994 on the "constitutional tradition since 1918", the competence of the Reichstag "for declaration of war and conclusion of peace". This justification is outdated. After all, "peace missions" along the lines of the UN or the EU work with a combination of civilian and security military means. This is not a conventional military operation as for defense. The parliamentary reservation must respect this change and adapt. For this, the Parliamentary Participation Act must be amended.

Lessons to learn

But there are some hurdles to this proposal: the first is enforcing the law change. This requires a lot of lobbying. In addition, there is the – justified – criticism from the peace movement. The previous cases of civil-military cooperation have failed. This was mainly due to the preponderance of the military components; this in turn to the attitude of a "sheriff" USA responsible for the order of the world, who has not yet understood that peace can only be achieved without weapons. But perhaps the failure in Afghanistan sets in motion a rethinking process in the US, which hopefully spills over to NATO; ending in an understanding of the military as an auxiliary organ of the UN for – say – "blue Helmet missions".

I see the main problem in the completely underdeveloped status of civil conflict management, in which the states have to invest much more, not only financially, but also in terms of political weight. The "defence" ministries must be replaced by ministries for cooperation with the UN, the EU, the peace research institutes and NGOs for the civilian handling of "hybrid" conflicts. A signal in the FRG would be the replacement of the subcommittee (!) for civil crisis prevention in the German Bundestag by a Committee for Civil Conflict Management, whose vote would be decisive for the fate of a government proposal for an amended parliamentary participation.

Die Grundschülerin AKK und deren Realitäten

The sources can be found here.