July 27, 2009:
Apparently as a result of Germany changing its ROE (Rules of Engagement) for its troops in Afghanistan earlier this month, German troops in northern Afghanistan have been involved in an offensive operation against the Taliban. This is the first time since 1945 that regular German army troops have been advancing on an enemy with tanks and infantry.
German troops have fired in self-defense in the past (mainly on peacekeeping missions, but also in Afghanistan), but the only offensive combat has been by commando units. And this did not take place until 2002, in Afghanistan. The German commandos continued to operate there, but under increasing political pressure back home to, well, stop fighting. Last year, Germany pulled its commandos out of Afghanistan. The KSK commandos have been there for most of the last seven years. Many Germans, especially leftist politicians and journalists, have not been happy with that. This has resulted in several unflattering, and largely inaccurate, articles about the KSK in the German media. There was also an investigation of several KSK men, accused of kicking an Afghan prisoner. While the KSK were allowed to fight, they also operated under an increasing number of restrictions. Eventually, they could not fire at the enemy unless first fired upon. This led to at least one senior Taliban leader getting away from the KSK. The fleeing Taliban honcho was not firing at the pursuing KSK, so the commandos could not take him down.
While Germans have really gotten into the guilt thing since World War II, the Japanese like to portray themselves as victims (Pearl Harbor and over a decade of atrocities in China notwithstanding). Since the end of the Cold War, many Germans have adopted the Japanese attitude towards World War II, and now accuse the U.S. and Britain of committing war crimes for bombing German cities during the war. There have been calls for an apology, and perhaps even reparations.
Meanwhile, until quite recently, the 3,400 German troops in Afghanistan were not allowed to go looking for a fight, even though they were increasingly getting attacked by the Taliban, or whoever the bad guy was where the German troops were. That was because the Afghans were becoming aware of the German ROE, and taking advantage of it. But with five German soldiers killed in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to three for all of last year, the ROE was changed. German soldiers may now attack hostile forces, without waiting to be fired on first. The previous ROE also stipulated that German troops had to let the enemy go if the German troops were no longer being fired on. That no longer applies either.
While many Germans oppose the presence of their troops in Afghanistan, the restrictive ROEs had become a growing embarrassment. The thousands of German soldiers who had served in Afghanistan continued to complain about it when they returned home. And then there the growing number of soldiers coming back suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Last year, 245 German soldiers, who had served in war zones (including Afghanistan), were classified as PTSD casualties. The year before, there were only 83 PTSD casualties. The restrictive ORE caused stress. Just the thought of it can be stressful. In the last three years, some 62,000 German troops have been stationed in combat (or peacekeeping) zones, where they can be exposed to traumatic events, the most traumatic one being not allowed to fight back.
The actual wording of the new ROE isn't that different, in order to make the changes more politically palatable at home. But the commanders in Afghanistan have been told that they can do whatever they need to do to accomplish their peacekeeping mission, and safeguard their own troops. That no longer includes trying to avoid contact with the enemy.