Speech given by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier as part of the German Bundestag debate on the deployment of German armed forces in Afghanistan

28.02.2007 - Speech

Bundestag debate on the participation of German armed forces in a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 1386 (2001), 1413 (2002), 1444 (2002), 1510 (2003), 1563 (2004), 1623 (2005) and 1707 (2006), 28 February 2007

Madam President,

Members of the Bundestag,

The German Bundestag is once again called upon to discuss the topic of Afghanistan. For five years already we have sought to bring about peace and reconstruction in this country. Memories of the attacks in Washington and New York are gradually beginning to fade.

Back then, every group here in the German Bundestag agreed that the fight against terror would demand both resolve and staying power on our part. And so it has. Our patience and tenacity in pursuing our approach and our chosen policy are now being put to the test. And we must pass this test.

We have achieved a great deal in Afghanistan. The situation in the north of the country, where the Federal Armed Forces are active and hold responsibility, has improved particularly. We have built roads and schools. We have dug wells. Millions of refugees have been able to return. Seven million boys and girls have been able to go to school again.

But we must also acknowledge that the situation in the south of the country in particular has become more acute in the last year. For many Afghans, reconstruction in the region is not happening quickly enough. The Taliban oppose progress because it comes from the west, and because it undermines the success of their religious ideology. This is why Taliban forces are not only fighting NATO, but are also destroying the schools just recently rebuilt and other projects intended to improve the lives of the people. For this reason, the influence of the Taliban in the south and southeast of the country must not spread any further.

Afghanistan will only enjoy a bright future if the south and the east of the country also benefit from the increasing stability seen in the north. This has only been able to flourish as a result of efforts by not only the Federal Armed Forces, but also a number of civilian aid organizations. We have expressed our thanks to the German troops on many occasions, and would like to do so again today. But we would also like to thank at this point the many people who have contributed to civilian aid efforts.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that asymmetrical developments in the individual areas of Afghanistan as I have just described also put the alliance itself, the level of solidarity within NATO to the test. The extent of these asymmetries could perhaps not have been foreseen when the various zones of responsibility in Afghanistan were initially established. While the incidence of attacks in the north has – as I have just mentioned – increased during the last year, the situation in the Northern provinces under German command has remained more stable and peaceful than elsewhere.

Other countries – not only the US, but also the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada – are engaged in a mission in the south of the country which has cost many soldiers their lives. Some have said, in criticism of us and others, that the distribution of responsibilities in the alliance is not always fair. Let me make it quite clear that I consider any criticism of this kind directed at Germany – and many were able to see this in the debate before the last NATO summit in Riga – as unjustified.

Indeed, with 2,800 soldiers, Germany provides one of the largest contingents of troops in the ISAF. We Germans have done a great deal in the last few months to further intensify our political efforts for the future of Afghanistan within the scope of both bilateral and European initiatives.

Just yesterday, the Federal Government announced – and our thanks here must go to the Development Ministry budget – that our contribution to civilian reconstruction will be increased by a further 20 million euro.

These funds will continue to promote education, healthcare and infrastructure in its broadest sense. What is more, we added our voice to calls at European level that other European countries should support German and Italian efforts to build up the police and the judicial system. The corresponding decisions were taken at the General Affairs Council two weeks ago.

It is also worth mentioning that we and others were able to instigate a debate in the NATO Council on an improved combination of civilian and military measures. And this is not all. We have also launched a debate on the importance of civilian reconstruction measures.

It is fair to say that everyone without exception recognizes the need for the international community to change its approach. No NATO member wants to be seen by the Afghan people as part of a soulless occupying army.

Everybody knows why the international community is in Afghanistan. It is there because Afghanistan must get back on its own feet, must learn to survive alone.

This is why we and many other countries intend to intensify our civilian reconstruction efforts. You will have read this morning, for example, that Canada is increasing its commitment by 100 million euro. This is good news. But as good as it is, it does not make our military presence in future surplus to requirements. During peacekeeping missions in the past, NATO has taken on additional duties and announced the need for further assistance. I believe it is vital to bear this kind of assistance in mind if the ISAF mission as a whole is to succeed.

Now whether people want to accept it or not, no system – and I'm sure the Defence Minister will refer to this – can guarantee air reconnaissance as effectively as the RECCE Tornados of the Federal Armed Forces. Their images improve the ISAF mission's overview of the situation and at the same time help to protect ISAF troops in the whole of Afghanistan, including those in the most difficult zones in the south. This improved overview also benefits – and this is the ultimate aim – the civilian aid workers and people in Afghanistan themselves.

The deployment of Tornados is a signal of our support for the ISAF and NATO in Afghanistan at what is without doubt a difficult time. I believe that we owe the alliance this show of solidarity. We have been called upon to participate in the greatest challenge in the history of this political-military alliance. Canadian, Dutch and US forces are asking for Tornados to be employed solely in the context of the ISAF mission. I can assure you that reconnaissance results will be communicated in a limited and controlled form to the OEF mission which is, as you know, dedicated to combating terror. This is laid down in the ISAF operation plan.

We have explicitly ruled out the provision of close air support in this mandate. But it would be unfair of me not to clarify that the OEF is in no way a villain trying to bring about peace in Afghanistan by military means. We have considered both ISAF and the OEF as vital since the very start. And let us not forget that the ISAF mission, too, is dependent on the assistance of OEF troops.

As I am aware, some members of the Bundestag are concerned that the Federal Armed Forces are drifting into a more or less uncontrolled military action. I do not share this concern. I would like to reiterate what we have said quite explicitly: Our Tornados will not be used in certain contexts, namely close-range air combat. We will only provide tornados for reconnaissance purposes.

As I have indicated, I understand the concern of some members here in the house. Many are asking – and I have heard them asking – whether the military action in the south of Afghanistan isn't the expression of a certain political impotence. Some doubt whether long-term peace in Afghanistan can be achieved with the current approach and are enquiring about an exit strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not intend to dodge these uncomfortable questions but to answer them clearly and directly: No, I firmly believe that the mission Afghanistan has not failed. It will only have failed if we do not at this point come up with the necessary assistance and means for our political strategy for reconstruction, which must of course continue to be accompanied by military operations.

Nobody wants the Federal Armed Forces to be in Afghanistan forever. Our policy envisages that Afghanistan itself will resolve its conflicts in the long term. This is why, for example, we are working together with other partners to help overcome tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan and lay the ground for rational cooperation between the two countries. We have just invited the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the next G8 Foreign Ministers meeting to discuss possibilities for constructive cooperation.

In conclusion let me say that we must stop Afghanistan from becoming a renewed breeding ground for international terrorism. We must show people in Afghanistan that prosperity, education and research offer better chances for their children and grandchildren than a life under the constraints of radical Islamism. I have said it before – as some of you may remember – and I will say it again: Afghanistan is only a lost cause if we give it up.

Thank you very much.

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