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German Casualties in Afghanistan Trigger Leftist Calls for Pull-Out

5:13 PM, May 24, 2007 • By ULF GARTZKE
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Last Saturday, three members of the German armed forces and seven local Afghans were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber at a bazaar in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The attack, which also severely wounded several other German soldiers and scores of Afghan civilians, brought the number of total German losses in that country to 24.

Afghanistan Photo.jpgGerman troops in Afghanistan. Courtesy of AFP/Shah Maria.

The bombing also shattered the long-standing misconception, both in the German public and among key NATO allies, that Bundeswehr troops in the North are primarily engaged in safe reconstruction work while American, Canadian, and British forces hunt Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in the South.

This division of labor is, in fact, a fiction. Berlin has already dispatched Germany's secretive KSK special forces to support NATO combat missions in the South on more than 70 occasions. Also, security conditions in the North, like elsewhere in the country, have deteriorated in recent months. The situation on the ground is so dire that President Bush even felt compelled to invite NATO secretary-general Jaap De Hoop Scheffer to his Crawford ranch last weekend, vowing to "work with our NATO allies to convince them that they must share more of the burden and must all share the risks in meeting our goal."

Back in Germany, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to condemn the attacks as "perfidious murder that fills us all with disgust" and reiterated the international community's commitment "to continue helping the people of Afghanistan build a good future for their country." Commentators from Germany's most influential newspapers also expressed strong support for the continuation of the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan, arguing that a precipitous withdrawal could have terrible consequences. According to the center-right mass-circulation tabloid Bild:

Terrible though these deaths are, it would be short-sighted and dangerous to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan because of this. For one thing, Germany can't leave the war on terror up to other nations and confine its own role to that of a morally superior preacher. Second, we can only depend on the support of our alliance partners if we too contribute to the fight against terror. A withdrawal of the German army would be a triumph for the Taliban. Worse: It would render the sacrifice brought by these soldiers and the others pointless.

Even before Saturday's deadly bombing, polls indicated that almost 50 percent of the German population was in favor of pulling Bundeswehr troops out of Afghanistan. Eager to ride the wave of public opinion, MPs from the populist Left Party as well as leftist members of the SPD party--which is part of Merkel's "Grand Coalition"--have now seized on the Kunduz attacks to call for a withdrawal of all German forces stationed there since 2001.