German troops in Afghanistan call on Angela Merkel to explain why they're at war

Angela Merkel

By Mail Foreign Service

German soldiers are wearing their hearts on their sleeves - in the form of a badge that protests their country's involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

Some troops have taken to wearing the cloth accessory that states - ironically - 'I fight for Merkel' in a bid to persuade the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to explain exactly what they are fighting and dying for.

Four more troops were killed, and five badly injured, in Afghanistan last week.

Seven soldiers have died there so far this month, bringing the total to 43 in all since they were first deployed eight years ago.

Unable to engage the Taliban directly on the ground, frustrated by their government’s inability to acknowledge they are even engaged in a war and angered by the lack of popular support for their mission, the badges are a low-key mutiny that has sent shock waves through the top brass of the Bundeswehr.

Soldiers were warned this week that it is illegal to sew the cloth patches on to their uniforms.

But that hasn’t stopped them from buying the badges in their hundreds, in desert beige or NATO green, at the ISAF camp at Mazar-e-Sharif.

'They want the Chancellor, their ultimate boss, to finally find the clear words to put the war against the Taliban into black and white,' Bild Zeitung, Germany’s biggest daily paper, said today.

Chancellor Merkel is to make a statement to parliament tomorrow. Her spokesman said she wants to make clear her 'high-esteem' for the work of the German soldiers in Afghanistan in the light of the recent casualties.

But she will be speaking in the Reichstag after being put under pressure from U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who arrived in Germany today with a brief from the White House to get the Germans to do more in Afghanistan.

Germany has the third largest presence in Afghanistan after the U.S. and Britain. The German parliament approved the dispatch of a further 850 soldiers in February when it extended the mandate for the military mission.

Yet the political will for German troops to engage the enemy head-on remains lacking.

Cracks are growing in the parties that supported their engagement there up until now.
Ottmar Schreiner, a left-wing member of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), said his party has 'growing doubts' about German involvement in Afghanistan.

He said: 'If things haven't improved in Afghanistan by next year then I don't see where a majority for a new extension of the mandate is going to come from.'

The trouble for Mrs Merkel is that German involvement is deeply unpopular with some 80 per cent of the public, who want the troops to come home. Germany’s disastrous wars of the last century have left its public with a deep pacifistic streak.

The German press has been swift to condemn the government for its indecisiveness.

The Financial Times Deutschland said: 'With every dead German soldier in Afghanistan, the calls for an immediate withdrawal grow louder. This reflex shows that the German public is still not clear about the character of the mission.

'The politicians are largely to blame. Since the beginning of the mission eight years ago they suppressed a realistic description of the situation... Deaths, injuries, battles and heavy weaponry -- none of these suit the picture that was painted back then.'

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung said: 'Why are German soldiers in Afghanistan at all? As the chancellor and her government are still sticking to the military mission there it is their duty to explain it. But she has failed to do so.

'This can be explained by her basic attitude - it is only worth talking about problems when they become virulent.

'In the case of Afghanistan this is particularly catastrophic. Because the government has failed to make its case in what is the biggest foreign policy and security policy challenge in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.'

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