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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag at the first reading of the motion on the deployment of German armed forces to participate in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission

05.12.2014

Mr President! Dear colleagues!

In early 2002 two German reporters visited Afghanistan to ascertain the state of the country following its liberation from the Taliban. They entered the country from the north via the border with Tajikistan. At the border the customs officer took his leave of the two journalists with the words, “Enjoy the Middle Ages.”

What the journalists saw there in 2002 did indeed resemble life in Mediaeval times. They were shocked by what they saw: people living in mud houses with no doors, people in rags gathered around a fire on which their meagre meal was cooking. They saw horrific things, such as the boy in a village in Takhar Province with a crippled knee joint, whose open wound had evidently been disinfected with hot tar.

“Day One in the Middle Ages” was the title of this report from 2002, and the reporters concluded at the time: “It is difficult to bring a country like Afghanistan into the present age.”

Probably no issue has had a greater impact on the foreign policy debate in Germany in the last few years than our engagement in the Hindu Kush. It began with the attacks of 11 September, the ISAF mission and the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. At that time Germany, along with its allies, assumed responsibility for Afghanistan, and it continues to do so to a large extent today.

In less than one month NATO’s ISAF mission, which began at that time, will be history. This, of course, must prompt us to conduct a review which can and should also be self-critical. The issue is not whether, as this article states, we have brought or will bring “Afghanistan into the present age”. Rather, what matters is the political question of the extent to which our high-risk involvement was worth the effort.

The important thing is also to identify what we have done right and where we have made mistakes, and to consider with what effort and with which goals we should continue this involvement in the future.

***

Those who were against it from the outset and who wanted to keep things superficial are, of course, always quick to regard this mission as a failure. Many have said or written things to this effect.

And indeed, in parts of the country the drug trade is still flourishing. Corruption often hinders the modernisation of state and society. Powerful warlords rule in many provinces. Violence still prevails in parts of the country. Anyone who had hoped for equal rights for women cannot, of course, be satisfied despite the progress made. And yes, radical Taliban Islamists are still around.

That is all true. But is that the full picture? On the other hand, we have achieved a considerable amount in this country’s development. Of course, many people are still living in poverty, but average life expectancy has now increased from 45 to 60 years, and that is progress. The mortality rate for mothers and children has fallen dramatically. A pleasing number of girls are attending school. More than 200,000 students are enrolled at university. There are asphalt roads, there is electricity, mobile phones and cars. There is a civil society, and there is a respectable number of relatively independent media. Afghanistan is now ahead of its neighbours India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan on Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index.

That is why I say that while all this is certainly no reason for us to become complacent, and we don’t have to pat one another on the back for this engagement, nonetheless, concrete progress has been made, which we should not underestimate and which would not have been achieved without the commitment of the international community.

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Perhaps even more important than the details, which many have commented on and written about, is the fact that we have not allowed this country to descend into chaos. We have freed it from terrorist rule, and now Afghanistan no longer harbours any terrorist threat. That is important for us, but it is also important for Afghanistan itself.

Yes, security and development in Afghanistan are still fragile. Yes, maybe our own expectations were too high and perhaps we raised unrealistic expectations in others. Yet nonetheless the country has been transformed. The most recent evidence of this is in my view the change in the presidency this summer, when Hamid Karzai was replaced by Ashraf Ghani, who is here this week. This was not an easy process either for Afghanistan or for the international community. But ultimately it was successful, and I am sure that will pay off.

Afghan security forces were largely responsible for security during last summer’s elections. This, too, shows that many of our efforts have been worthwhile.

The new Government of National Unity led by President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah has our support so that Afghanistan can continue to move forward. We intend to reiterate our support for the two leaders during their visit to Berlin today – which hopefully also reflects your sentiments.

***

When we look back on 13 years of engagement in Afghanistan today, we also look back on sacrifices made by us, the international community, and also by Germany, over the past years, for which we mourn. Through the years Bundeswehr servicemen and women have participated in more than 130,000 operations in Afghanistan. At times up to 5500 were deployed there simultaneously.

Since the start of this mission 55 have lost their lives in Afghanistan. In addition many have suffered physical and psychological injury. We remember the victims and convey our heartfelt sympathy to their families and loved ones. We feel for all those who continue to suffer as a result of their injuries.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our soldiers and to say that throughout the entire duration of the mission you have been instrumental, often under extreme circumstances, in ensuring a degree of security without which reconstruction and development would not have been possible. You have performed your duties with truly remarkable professionalism, from the start of the mission right up to the now completed withdrawal from Camp Kunduz and the reduction of our presence in Mazar‑e‑Sharif. For this you deserve our thanks and the highest respect from our country.

Yet our engagement was not restricted to the military aspect. For this reason our thanks also goes to the police officers who have helped establish independent Afghan security forces and an independent Afghan police force. I would like to thank the many German development workers and diplomats who, at great personal risk and with incredible dedication, have given our Afghan friends the hope that there is an alternative to conflict and civil war and that Afghanistan has a future. Thank you very much to all of you.

***

Dear colleagues, on 1 January 2015 we will open a new chapter in Afghanistan’s recent history. The government in Kabul will assume complete responsibility for the country’s internal and national security. International support will not abruptly come to an end, but it will take a new form. The Resolute Support Mission will take over from ISAF, and it is the military contribution we are voting on today.

Yet our future engagement will continue to involve more than just a military aspect. We will invest 430 million euros in civilian reconstruction aid each year, up to 2016, whether this be used to finance the construction of schools, the further expansion of infrastructure, the development of a country-wide power grid or the establishment of a basic healthcare system. Security is a prerequisite for many things, including civilian support. Yet if Afghanistan is ever to stand entirely on its own feet, it needs sustainable development, now more than ever. We have all had to learn that it will be a damned long haul. That is still the case.

The motion for a mandate you have in front of you regulates the participation of German armed forces in Resolute Support. Unlike ISAF, Resolute Support is not an operational mission, as the participating armed forces do not have the task of combating terrorism and drugs. Instead, this mission pursues a different philosophy, the idea that Afghan security forces must stand on their own feet in future. They bear full responsibility for security in the country. Trainers and advisors from the international community will be made available only in central sectors where we now have to assume that deficits still exist. The remit will also include emergency assistance for civilian aid workers from the international community.

The mission will take place with the express consent of the Afghan Government on the basis of the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement, ratified by the Parliament with an impressive majority. We also hope that in December the United Nations Security Council will adopt a resolution investing Resolute Support with political authority. Negotiations on this resolution are currently under way in New York. We are doing everything we can to achieve a positive outcome on this issue.

Germany will continue its engagement in Afghanistan beyond 2015. This goes for many areas. The NATO allies will discuss what impact this will have on the security sector and the training and advisory sector in the course of the coming year and analyse the progress of Resolute Support in 2015.

But we can already say that the question of funding for the Afghan security forces will remain strategically significant in the long term. For this reason we, the Federal Government, intend to earmark around 150 million euros each year from 2015: 80 million euros to finance the Afghan armed forces, and 70 million euros for the police force.

***

Dear colleagues,

the development must continue. We are ready to provide support. But we must be aware that the opportunities to exert influence from outside are naturally limited, and that is how it should be. For this reason, all our efforts will only have maximum impact if the Afghans themselves embark on a successful political process. I said a few moments ago that the first peaceful and democratic change of president is encouraging and constitutes a step forward. But I remain convinced that ultimately only an internal process of reconciliation, only a political solution can bring lasting peace to Afghanistan.

We are ready to provide further assistance for Afghanistan. The Resolute Support Mission forms part of this assistance. Let us remember that the ISAF mandates always received widespread support here in this House. I hope that this will also be the case with Resolute Support. For my part, I believe that it is part of the joint responsibility we bear for a difficult and enduring period of commitment. For this reason I would like to urge you, also on behalf of Frau von der Leyen, who is unable to be here today due to a bereavement, and on behalf of the entire Federal Government, to approve this mandate.

Thank you very much. 

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