Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan: Lessons in humility

Status: 06/23/2022 04:39 a.m

The Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan lasted 20 years. The Bundestag now wants to work through the mission by means of a committee of inquiry and commission of inquiry – at the end of which the Taliban were back in power.

By Kai Küstner, ARD Capital Studio

It’s the images that shook Germany: desperate Afghans clinging to Allied planes as they took off after the Taliban took power. Images from the tarmac in Kabul that will forever be associated with the hasty withdrawal of Western troops.

It’s about finding out why this mission ended up being such a failure.

With these words, Ralf Stegner describes in an interview with the ARD Capital Studio the mandate of the parliamentary committee of inquiry. This will be chaired by the SPD politician – if the Bundestag decides so. The body was conceived, says Stegner: “not so much as an instrument of ‘opposition against the government’, but also to prevent this from happening again in the future.”

U-Committee more specialized than Commission

Now, however, there are fewer fears that the Union and the traffic light parties in the committee could get into too much trouble – after all, the CDU provided the chancellor and defense minister in the final phase of the Afghanistan mission. Rather, quite a few see the danger that Stegner, who is assigned to the left SPD wing, will not be the only one who is too careful with the then Foreign Minister and party friend Heiko Maas could handle. Michael Müller, a member of the Bundestag and also an SPD member, promises: “There won’t be any reluctance. I can say that for Ralf Stegner’s work in the committee of inquiry and for my work in the commission of inquiry.”

Stegner should therefore chair the committee that is responsible for the phase from disastrous deduction agreement between US President Donald Trump and the Taliban to investigate. This applies to the period after the final troop withdrawal and the evacuation mission from Kabul: from February 2020 to the end of September 2021. The commission of inquiry is now envisaging a much longer period of time. It is to process the entire 20-year deployment of the Bundeswehr and civilian aid – under the leadership of Müller.

So a lot of work, agrees Conrad Schetter, Professor at the University of Bonn for peace and conflict research in an interview with the ARD Capital Studio “A very central mistake is that you slipped into this engagement in Afghanistan without giving it a second thought,” says Schetter. Completely unprepared and with expectations that were far too high, Germany set out from the Hindu Kush in 2001: “That ultimately broke the entire Afghanistan mission.”

Chance to learn from mistakes

But even with regard to the withdrawal, crucial questions are still unanswered: Where did the colossal miscalculation by the Foreign Office and intelligence services come from, that the Taliban would not even try to conquer Kabul after the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr? What went wrong with the Evacuation of the German embassy in Kabul? Despite all the warnings, why didn’t the federal government get thousands of local Afghan workers to safety in time?

Ursula Schröder from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg also sees the two bodies – the committee of inquiry and the commission of inquiry – as having a duty: “They are certainly not ideal because they are staffed by party politicians. But they can achieve something: like a Disasters that can be avoided in other cases in Afghanistan.”

Ideally, something can be learned from the mistakes of the past for the future. For ongoing Bundeswehr missions like the one in Mali – or others to come. Whether that works also depends on how strong the parties’ will to clarify is in the end.

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