Who is the greatest soldier in history

Afghanistan - The greatest mission
in the history of the Bundeswehr

Fallen, wounded, war, veterans - like no other mission before, the Afghanistan Mission characterizes the Bundeswehr as an intervention army that can be deployed around the world. Germany and its partners have been involved in the Hindu Kush for 13 years. The armed combat mission is due to end at the end of 2014. The trigger is already running.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York, the international community decided to intervene in Afghanistan, where the radical Islamic Taliban regime sheltered the perpetrators of the attacks against Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The war-torn country should never again become a haven for international terrorism.

What began as a stabilization mission in the capital, Kabul, gradually expanded into the largest mission in the history of the Bundeswehr, which has now lasted more than twice as long as the Second World War.


How it all began: Attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

Photo: dpa

A turning point - after that nothing was like before

Photo: dpa

The mastermind: Osama bin Laden planned the attacks under the protection of the Taliban regime

Photo: dpa



On December 22, 2001, the German Bundestag passed the first Afghanistan mandate. With up to 1200 soldiers, the Bundeswehr is to participate in the international protection force ISAF in order to “support the provisional state organs of Afghanistan in maintaining security in Kabul and the surrounding area on behalf of the United Nations, so that both the provisional Afghan government and the United Nations personnel can work in a safe environment ”.


December 2002, Bonn, Petersberg: Afghan President Hamid Karsai and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on the way to the meeting room in which the international Afghanistan conference is being held. The international community promises to help Afghanistan rebuild. Photo: dpa


The first ISAF forces arrive in Kabul at the beginning of January 2002. German soldiers take part in a patrol in the war-torn city for the first time on January 14th. Due to the initially low level of risk, they wear hats instead of helmets and move around the country in unarmored vehicles. An air transshipment point is put into operation in the neighboring country of Uzbekistan in Termes to supply German troops.

The first important task of the ISAF is to secure the Loja Jirga for the establishment of an Afghan interim government in June 2002. The agreed establishment of the Afghan National Army also begins. Only a few weeks later, the German population became aware of the dangers of the new mission when two German and three Danish soldiers died while defusing a Soviet-type anti-aircraft missile and more soldiers were injured.

In June 2003 the first German soldiers died in a suicide attack

But it is not just the aftermath of the war that poses a threat to the international troops. The Bundeswehr must recognize that its participation in the international stabilization mission is falling into the crosshairs of terrorists. On June 7, 2003, the first fatal attack was carried out on the Bundeswehr. While a German convoy was driving to Kabul International Airport, a suicide bomber disguised as a taxi bomb destroys a Bundeswehr bus. Four German soldiers are killed, 29 injured, some seriously. In view of such attacks, the Bundeswehr is increasingly using armored vehicles.


Phase 2 - Germany takes responsibility


Outside of Kabul there are repeated clashes with Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters. The armed struggle is primarily the task of the anti-terrorist operation "Enduring Freedom", which is working parallel to the international protection force against terrorists and fighters of the defeated Taliban regime and is mainly carried out by US troops. At the request of the Afghan government, the ISAF area of ​​operations will be expanded in autumn 2003 in order to ensure security and stability outside of Kabul as well. The international troops are reinforced, including the German contingent. Bundeswehr soldiers take over the Regional Reconstruction Team (PRT) set up by the Americans in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz.


At that time there was a single tarred road in the provincial capital of the same name, where people mainly get around on foot or in horse-drawn carriages. Nowadays there is rush hour traffic in the mornings, almost all of the cars are rolling over asphalt, and carriages have almost disappeared. That is the most visible sign of how the region has developed with German help. At the same time, Kunduz has changed the Bundeswehr - whose soldiers were first ridiculed as development workers in uniform and are now withdrawing as fighters.


A city of tents and containers: the Kunduz military camp

Photo: dpa

Protected with sand surfaces and camouflage nets: the commanders' building in the Bundeswehr camp

Photo: dpa

Access to the camp is strictly controlled

Photo: dpa


When Germany entered Kunduz with the civil-military reconstruction team (PRT), the Bundeswehr assessed the situation there as “calm, but not stable” - hardly anyone could have guessed at the time how accurate this analysis would be. The Germans take over the PRT from the Americans in the provinces. In autumn 2003, the then US commander of the PRT, Colonel Frederick Tawes, said: "The security situation is probably the best in Afghanistan." His soldiers did not have to fire a shot during the entire mission. So Germans shouldn't be afraid. At the beginning, the new German location is ridiculed as "Bad Kundus".

As part of the further expansion of the ISAF mandate, the Bundeswehr will be operating another PRT in Faisabad from summer 2004, while gradually reducing the German forces stationed in Kabul. In the following year Germany takes on the tasks of Regional Area Coordinator North (RAC North) and later the Regional Command North (RC North) and in this function is responsible for the coordination of the reconstruction in the whole of northern Afghanistan. Camp Marmal is being built in Mazar-i Sharif and will be the headquarters of the regional command north.


Phase 3 - The security situation deteriorates

Al Qaeda seemed to have largely been defeated, but the Islamists withdrew - and came back: Taliban fighters continue to attack international troops to this day. Photo: dpa

Despite the progress made in the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, the development of the security situation, particularly in the south and east, has been of increasing concern since the end of 2005. In addition to organized crime, drug-related crime and tribal rivalries, the Taliban, who previously moved to neighboring Pakistan, are trying to regain more and more massive, lost territory in Afghanistan. Attacks and attacks on ISAF soldiers and Afghan security forces as well as on United Nations and development organizations are on the rise.

Although the German area of ​​responsibility in northern Afghanistan remains calm for the time being, attacks by insurgents have increased here as well from 2007 onwards. Taliban fighters infiltrate northern Afghanistan. They raid cities and police stations. In addition to stabilization and reconstruction, the Bundeswehr must increasingly turn to the fight against enemy forces. The stabilization mission becomes a counter-insurgency mission.

2010 saw the heaviest battle
German soldiers since World War II

In May 2007, three German soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Kunduz city. The Taliban are bringing entire districts under their control, and the security situation is steadily deteriorating. Under German command, international and Afghan troops succeed in regaining areas occupied by the Taliban. At the request of NATO, the Bundeswehr will provide the forces for the Quick Reaction Force in northern Afghanistan from July 2008. The task force previously provided by Norway will be equipped with armored transport vehicles and the Marder 1A5 armored personnel carrier

Fighting with the Taliban broke out on Good Friday 2010 in the province of Kunduz. Three members of the armed forces are killed. It is the heaviest battle for German soldiers since the Second World War.


The official grove of honor

This is where the presidents, the chancellor and the ministers commemorate the dead when they visit troops. So far, more than 50 Bundeswehr soldiers have died while working in Afghanistan. Photo: dpa

Leyen visiting the troops

Minister Ursula von der Leyen used her first stay in Afghanistan to commemorate the dead during a troop visit. Photo: dpa

The unofficial grove

The soldiers have built their own grove of honor. In the foreground the broken door of an armored vehicle - and an enclosure for seven turtles. Photo: dpa


In the Kunduz PRT, the official grove of honor commemorates the fallen, while ministers and the Chancellor commemorate the dead when troop visits are made. Soldiers also erected their own memorials for their comrades who had been killed. Large wooden crosses for seven dead are attached to a wall near the helipad, including the three victims on Good Friday 2010. In front of it is an enclosure with seven turtles and a small German flag. “Turtles symbolize eternal life in this country,” says a sign. “So that our fallen comrades live on in our thoughts, we keep a turtle for each comrade”.

After the air raid on two tank trucks
in Kunduz it is clear: this is war

The name Kunduz is inextricably linked not only to the Good Friday battle, but also to another fateful incident: At the PRT, Colonel Georg Klein - later promoted to Brigadier General - ordered an air strike on two tankers hijacked by the Taliban in September 2009. According to NATO estimates, up to 142 people, including many civilians, were killed and others injured in the nightly bombing.
The public awareness in Germany is now at the latest that the Bundeswehr is at war in Afghanistan - even if the Federal Government continued to avoid this expression at the time.


According to NATO estimates, more than 140 people, including numerous civilians, were killed in the air attack on two tank trucks ordered by Bundeswehr Colonel Klein. Photo: dpa

Three weeks before the bombing, Colonel Klein said of the situation in Kunduz: "There is hardly a day that goes by without shooting." The Taliban have now set up mobile roadblocks in the province. “The soldiers have to be prepared for attacks the moment they leave the gates of the camp behind them. You have to reckon with rocket attacks in the camp. ”The deployment of the Bundeswehr is characterized by almost daily firefights. In its attacks and ambushes, the enemy is increasingly organized in a military manner. Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg speaks for the first time of "war-like conditions" and thus meets the feeling of many soldiers who fight for hours in Afghanistan almost every day with an opponent who is fighting asymmetrically. The Bundeswehr is reacting to the increased threat and is relocating additional heavy weapons such as the self-propelled howitzer 2000 to Afghanistan.

There is also a new legal issue in Germany with the use of the Federal Armed Forces. In the course of coming to terms with the air attack in Kunduz, the Federal Prosecutor's Office decided in March 2010 that the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan was a non-international armed conflict - in other words, a civil war. For soldiers in the Bundeswehr, the International Criminal Code applies instead of the German Criminal Code.


Phase 4 - change of strategy, realignment and handover of security responsibility - withdrawal

Under the impression of the nationwide deterioration in the security situation, the NATO states decide to massively increase the ISAF troops and at the same time to make a far-reaching change in strategy. The efforts in the area of ​​development and training of the Afghan security forces are being stepped up significantly, and the military engagement is placing the protection of the Afghan people in the foreground.

Instead of securing the area through patrols from the few field camps, Isaf is moving on to securing the area liberated from insurgents also through the permanent presence of troops. Operation Halmasag - the first German offensive since the Second World War - belongs in this context. The Bundeswehr succeeded in largely displacing the rebels from the most dangerous district of northern Afghanistan.


This “lightning” operation marks a turning point.
It was the first German offensive since World War II. Photo: dpa

“Partnering” was the key word. The Afghans are increasingly involved in the operations. A German training and protection battalion will be set up in Mazar-i Sharif and Kunduz, equipped with everything that is necessary for independent and intensive operations - combat troops, pioneers, medic, reconnaissance and ordnance disposal personnel. They replace the QRF, which will be dissolved in October 2010.




The soldiers operate in the area and are constantly present. Even if the risk for the soldiers increases initially, the new approach shows success. The ISAF will no longer allow spaces that it has won to be taken away, but will transfer them to the Afghans' responsibility for security as soon as they are able to do so. In addition, especially the leaders of the insurgents are targeted by special forces. For the insurgents, the retreat areas are getting smaller and smaller. Many give up the fight and seize the chance for a new life in the reintegration program for Taliban fighters.

You have clocks
we have timeSay of the Taliban

In the first half of 2011, the insurgents change their approach. Instead of involving the ISAF troops in ambushes and skirmishes, they are increasingly relying on makeshift booby traps. Disguised as rubbish on the side of the road, hidden in water channels under the road, the explosive devices known in technical jargon as IEDs are the deadliest danger for the soldiers. The approaching withdrawal date of the international troops gives them new hope. “You have clocks, we have time” is an often heard saying. One waits. Patiently. The closer the withdrawal draws, the greater the Taliban's new influence. After all these years, after more than 50 dead German soldiers, the success of the international military mission in Afghanistan is therefore more than questionable. Which is why the debate on the pros and cons of this deployment of the Federal Armed Forces continues with undiminished intensity. Michael Schmidt