German Policy in Afghanistan: An Overview

The German Government’s foreign policy in Afghanistan consists of a complex patchwork of overlapping mandates. The Bundeswehr’s current operations in Afghanistan fall under the jurisdictions of three separate mandates. The first of which is the NATO-led ISAF, or International Security Assistance Force mandate, which is responsible for the deployment of some 3,000 German troops into Afghanistan. The second mandate, the ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance and Surveillance program, is closely related to the first and authorizes the deployment of six RECCE Tornado reconnaissance aircraft into Afghanistan along with 200 troops responsible for the operation and maintenance of these aircraft (German Embassy). The third and most controversial mandate, the OEF or Operation Enduring Freedom mandate, is an assertion of the Untied States’ right to defend itself from terrorist threats. Germany’s involvement in OEF is the result of bilateral relations with the United States and is outside the sphere of NATO (Kaim). Although the official records state that no German troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan under OEF, this mandate continues to be a point of friction for many in the Bundestag as well as the German populace as a whole (Bundeswehr). To fully understand the complex nature of Germany’s role in Afghanistan, it is necessary to examine these three mandates in greater detail and to place them in the context of the larger international effort taking place in that country.



On December 20, 2001, roughly four months after U.S. combat operations had begun in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the UN Security Council created the International Security Assistance Force when it adopted resolution 1386 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Kaim). Currently, ISAF consists of thirty-seven countries together contributing over 35,000 troops to the task of stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan. At first ISAF command was rotated every six months among the thirty-seven member states; however, when this system proved to be too complicated, command was turned over indefinitely to NATO in 2003. On October 5, 2006 NATO-ISAF took command of all international military forces in Afghanistan from the U.S.-led Coalition. ISAF operates five Regional Command Centers throughout the country, as well as twenty-five PRTs or Provincial Reconstruction Teams (German Embassy). These small teams of civilian and military personnel work in Afghanistan’s provinces to provide security for aid workers and help with reconstruction. ISAF’s main roles are the support and extension of the National Afghan Army and the conduct of security operations with the NAA, the support of government programs, the support of the national police, and the reconstruction and development of key infrastructures (Bundeswehr).

As the third largest troop contributor, Germany is a major component of the ISAF presence in Afghanistan. Germany’s mandate restricts its operations to the less volatile provinces of the North, namely, Faryab, Jawzjan, Sar-I Pul, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. In 2005, the Bundeswehr assumed the lead in the North and, since 2006, has been in charge of Regional Command North with its headquarters in Mazari Sharif in Balkh province (German Embassy). German armed forces are currently managing two PRTs, one in Fayzabad in Badakhshan province and the other in Kunduz in Kunduz province. The objective of these PRTs is to assist the local authorities in reconstruction and maintenance of security in the area (Bundeswehr).


Specific Policy Objectives under ISAF

An overview of the German Government’s policy objectives in Afghanistan under NATO-ISAF can be found in the September 2007 document, “The German Federal Government’s Afghanistan Policy.” It begins with the stated goals of developing state institutions and promoting good governance. Presidential and provincial council elections are scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in 2009, while parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2010 (Auswärtiges Amt). In order to ensure the success of these elections, the German Government is training election officers and preparing the necessary administrative networks which such elections require. The Bundestag is also working to strengthen government on the local level as well as at the parliamentary level. This includes, among other things, fighting the corruption and nepotism which are currently plaguing Afghanistan’s political system, especially at the local levels in the northern provinces. This is being done through the Anti-Corruption Action Plan, which attempts to identify areas of corruption and hold those responsible accountable for their actions (Auswärtiges Amt).

The German Government is also demonstrating concern in the area of human rights. In the North, local power brokers and commanders pose the greatest threat to human rights. Afghan police are also guilty of perpetrating acts of torture and of making arbitrary arrests. In order to curb these blatant human rights violations, the Bundestag will continue to support the reformation and development of the Afghan judicial system. The Bundestag also plans to foster the increase of cooperation between police and the public prosecution office, further training for police and judges and inform the general public about individual rights (Auswärtiges Amt). The German Government will also continue to support the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Another important policy point closely related to the promotion of human rights is the improvement of the standard of living for Afghans. The German Government plans to increase funds in this field to 125 million Euro in 2008 (Auswärtiges Amt). It also plans to strengthen the economy in the northern provinces and create jobs by supporting small and medium size companies. This, together with an educational program that will build more schools and vocational training centers for teachers, is designed to secure a more stable future for the younger, under twenty-five population in Afghanistan, which makes up more than sixty-eight percent of the overall population (German Embassy).

The fostering of dialogue between Afghanistan and its allies in the region is another stated goal of the Bundestag. This includes promoting cooperation with Pakistan on important border issues such as security and drug-trafficking, as well as good relations with Iran, one of Afghanistan’s main economic partners. Admittedly, the crux of the economic relationship between Iran and Afghanistan is the illegal drug market, which is the only source of income for many Afghan farmers. Iran also hosts the largest Afghan refugee community. The German Government will continue to provide funding in 2008 for border control, return of refugees, promotion of the economy in border regions and the development of government contacts (Auswärtiges Amt).

Of course, all of this humanitarian and infrastructure work cannot be accomplished without first neutralizing the security situation. Since the strengthening of the Taliban insurgency in the spring of 2006, the number of security-related incidents has greatly increased throughout the country (Bundeswehr). In the southern Pashtun parts of the country the number of security incidents has doubled. Although the effects of the Taliban insurgency have not been felt as greatly in the North, where German troops are stationed, security threats exist there from other aspects of Afghan society. For example, organized crime, conflicts between local power brokers and power struggles within the Afghan administration all present threats to German troops in the North and their task of rebuilding (Auswärtiges Amt). To combat these, the German Government plans to maintain its troop presence of some 3,000 (exact numbers are difficult to come by), and expedite the strengthening of the Afghan National Security Forces.


ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance and Surveillance Mandate

Turning away from the first NATO-ISAF mandate towards the second Aerial Reconnaissance mandate, the issues surrounding Germany’s presence in Afghanistan become more controversial. This second mandate was issued in February 2007 and, like the NATO-ISAF mandate, came up for renewal in October of that same year (Kaim). The Reconnaissance mandate deployed six RECCE Tornado aircraft to Afghanistan along with 200 troops involved in the operation and maintenance of these aircraft. While it is closely related to the first ISAF mandate, it has sparked more controversy because it allows the aircraft to be used for reconnaissance in NATO operations all around the country and not just in the North. The combat operations which take place in the south against the Taliban insurgency often result in a higher number of civilian casualties (Kaim). Is it exactly these civilian casualties which the German Government, as well as the German populace, does not want to be responsible for or associated with. In fact, according to a poll conducted by the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger,” sixty-one percent of Germans oppose the extension of all Afghan mandates (AFP). Despite this opposition, on October, 12 2007 the Bundestag voted 453 to 79 in favor of extending both the ISAF and ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance mandates an additional twelve months (AFP). Another vote is expected in November 2007 on the extension of the OEF mandate, which expires November, 15.


Operation Enduring Freedom Mandate

The third and final mandate, the Operation Enduring Freedom mandate, is easily the most controversial. OEF is an assertion of the United States’ right to defend itself from international terrorism following the events of September 11, 2001, and is authorized under Article 51 of the UN Charter (German Embassy). Germany’s mandate authorizes the deployment of up to 1,800 troops under OEF; however, since 2001 there has only been as many as 100 members of the Bundeswehr’s Special Forces Command, the KSK, operating in Afghanistan under OEF at any time (Kaim). The missions of these elite troops remain classified and, according to official records, there have been no KSK troops in Afghanistan since 2005 (Bundeswehr). OEF is not specific to Afghanistan and Germany’s current contribution to this operation is 250 marines stationed on the Horn of Africa conducting surveillance and protecting naval routes. This operation alone cost the German Government sixty-five million euros in 2007 (Kaim). The OEF mandate is a controversial one because it is strictly a combat operation designed to fight terrorism and has little to do with the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts of NATO. It, too, is focused in the south where combat operations lead to high civilian casualties.

The complex nature of Germany’s presence in Afghanistan often leads to much confusion, especially in discussions over the OEF mandate, where people fail to realize that there is currently no German troop presence in Afghanistan under OEF. Many, however, recognize the OEF mandate as an unnecessary drain on funds which could be better used elsewhere. The abolition of the OEF mandate could also allow for full attention to be focused on NATO-ISAF reconstruction and development operations (Kaim). It is with these beliefs in mind that many in the Bundestag will enter the Reichstag in November to vote on the fate of the OEF mandate.




 Works Cited


Bundeswehr. 10. November 2007 <;

“Germany Extends Afghan Mandate Amid Growing Doubts.” October 12, 2007.

Associated Free Press. 13. November 2007 <>

Kaim, Marcus. “The Debate on the Mandates Sending German Troops to Afghanistan.”

September 5, 2007. American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University. 10. November 2007 <;

“Secure and Democratic Future for Afghanistan: Germany’s Commitment.” German

Embassy Washington, D.C. 12. November 2007 <>

“The German Federal Government’s Afghanistan Policy.” September 14, 2007.

Auswärtiges Amt. 12. November 2007 <;




About josephdmoore

I am currently teaching English at a small private school in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Prior to coming to Thailand, I substitute taught in several urban school districts in Northern and Central New Jersey. I also worked part-time as an SAT instructor for The Princeton Review. In 2010, I received a Master of Arts degree in teaching from The College of New Jersey where I specialized in teaching English literature and writing at the secondary level. In 2008, I finished a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. My hobbies include traveling to remote parts of the world, reading the news voraciously, debating politics with friends, hiking, surfing, playing soccer and watching movies.
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