Bundeswehr in Afghanistan: Lessons from the withdrawal

Status: 12/30/2021 12:43 a.m.

The year 2021 remains associated with the inglorious end of the Afghanistan mission. The withdrawal has left its mark on many soldiers. Now they hope that lessons will be learned from this.

By Kai Küstner, ARD capital studio

It was a deep bow from politicians to the soldiers of the Bundeswehr. Before those more than 90,000 who had served in Afghanistan. In mid-October they were honored with the highest military honor of all, the Great Zapfenstreich, before the Reichstag.

Kai Küstner
ARD capital studio

Maik Mutschke personally witnessed this tribute, who in 2010 was torn off the left half of his face by a booby trap and who escaped death by a hair’s breadth thanks to several resuscitation measures. That happened during the “Good Friday Battle”, which Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed directly in his speech: “I was already close to the water,” admits the soldier. “It all came up again.”

“Goals unclear”

Mutschke is grateful for the – late – appreciation. But does not hide the fact that he sees mistakes in politics: They still do not really explain the meaning of life-threatening missions abroad to people. And: Even during the mission, the goals were always unclear from his point of view. From his point of view, there was nowhere a yardstick for reviewing the mission: “There was never a goal that could be directly determined. It was more like this: yes – no – maybe.”

Philipp Pordzik said he was downright “shocked” by the withdrawal of German troops. He is also a veteran of Afghanistan. At the most inopportune moment the decision was made: “We’ll pack our bags and out” – with the well-known consequences of the Taliban’s takeover of power: “We haven’t achieved what we originally wanted to achieve in this country. Just now we should have found out, that the Afghans continue to need our support, “is his sober conclusion.

It is undisputed that the federal government was presented with a fait accompli by the US withdrawal decision in April and that there were hair-raising misjudgments about its strength before the Taliban came to power.

Dramatic words

Which inevitably raises the question: Shouldn’t the Europeans in future be able to become more capable of acting militarily on their own? Shouldn’t they be able to carry out an evacuation mission like the one at Kabul airport like in August without the USA? “I think it makes sense to think about it, but please within the NATO framework and not by setting up parallel structures in the European Union,” explains German NATO General Jörg Vollmer in NDR-Interview.

Vollmer is in command of the so-called Joint Force Command of NATO, from which the Afghanistan mission was carried out. But then, the four-star general warns, one must also have the political will to provide the funds and deploy them robustly if necessary.

Vollmer found drastic words for dealing with the Afghan local staff in the final phase of the operation – it was “shameful”, they could have been brought to Germany and to safety much earlier. The NATO general speaks of a “negative signal” for other areas of operation of the Bundeswehr and the cooperation with local forces there.

“What did that do?”

The day of appreciation and the great tattoo of the military police officer Alex was deliberately only viewed as a recording. Alex returned home from the Good Friday battle in 2010, seriously wounded, and has since suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder.

He had to press the pause button again and again while recording, he says. It bothered him too much, too much the question came to the fore: Was it all for nothing? “Of course the thoughts come. My mother asked me, my wife asked me: ‘Why were you down there with your comrades? What did that bring?'”

In the coalition agreement, politicians promised a Bundestag committee of inquiry and promised an extensive review for 2022. This troubleshooting, the soldiers agree, is urgently needed. Because if no lessons were learned from Afghanistan, the question of meaning would be all the more urgent for them.


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