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GERMANY: Opposition Builds Up Over Afghanistan

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Aug 14 2009 (IPS) - German writers and philosophers have begun to condemn military intervention in Afghanistan as an “invasion”, a “mistake”, and a “delusion”.

In an essay titled ‘Cowardice before our own people’ last week in Der Spiegel weekly, philosopher and writer Richard David Precht ridiculed the argument of defence minister Franz Joseph Jung that the military mission in Afghanistan was not “a war”.

The German government calls the military mission “a stabilisation operation.” Precht said this wording deserves “a place of honour in the dictionary of stultification.” The government’s language, he says, is a symptom of “cowardice before its own people.”

Precht’s article appeared six weeks before the German parliamentary elections due in September. German military intervention in Afghanistan is debated in the media daily, but political parties, with the sole exception of the Left, are refusing to make it a campaign issue.

Precht’s essay, and other recent publications criticising the German military mission in Afghanistan, breaks this coalition of silence about the war.

Germany has been participating in the war since its beginning in late 2001, shortly after the terror attacks of Sep. 11. The left-wing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens responded to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) call for intervention based on the “case for defence” that justifies retaliation when one of the group’s members (in this case the U.S.) is attacked.

Peter Struck, who was defence minister in 2002, defended the war on the grounds that “Germany’s homeland security is being defended in (the Afghan mountains of) Hindu Kush.”

Some 4,800 German soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan. These include about 100 special forces soldiers participating in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in southern Afghanistan. About 4,400 soldiers are with the UN International Security Assistance Force (ISAR) in the north to protect development workers.

Precht, who said he wanted to expose “the dishonesty of the self-appointed ‘human rights advocates’ warmongers”, describes German soldiers posted in Afghanistan as “more or less peaceful invaders.”

Eric Chauvistré, a political scientist specialising in nuclear disarmament, has just published a book ‘Wir Gutkrieger’ (‘We Noble Warriors’) against the German military intervention in Afghanistan.

Chauvistré says in his book that the “German soldiers’ most important mission in Afghanistan is to protect themselves.” Half the German soldiers posted in Afghanistan almost never leave their camp during the four months of their deployment there.

“Sure enough, the world will not become a better place without the German army’s missions abroad. But the (German military interventions) do not help either.”

Precht says Western delusions in Afghanistan are leading to denial of the military mission’s failures. These are evident among other ways in the expansion of poppy fields and increased production of heroine.

Precht calls for “a rebellion of German intellectuals” to demand withdrawal of German troops. The intellectuals, “supported by the majority of our people, should encourage the government to stop wasting billions of dollars and sending soldiers to their deaths.”

According to official figures, Germany’s military intervention in Afghanistan has cost 1.2 billion euros (1.65 billion dollars) since 2002. Since the beginning of the war, 35 German soldiers have been killed. Hundreds have been wounded, and many more suffer post traumatic stress disorder.

Precht’s essay has provoked a wave of support for his argument. Roberto Zion, Green Party candidate for the next parliamentary elections, wrote Precht an open letter Aug. 10 supporting his call for a “rebellion of German intellectuals.”

Zion says in the letter published in the Freitag weekly that “an appeal by German intellectuals is indeed urgently needed” to break with the “present coalition of the guilty, which tries to stop any political debate, especially during the present electoral campaign, on the absurdity of the war.”

Zion’s own Green party supports German participation in the war.

According to numerous opinion polls, the majority of Germans want troops withdrawn. In the most recent poll in early July, 62 percent of Germans said they wanted an immediate pullout of troops.

Precht’s essay is only among the latest in several against the military intervention in Afghanistan. All share the view that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, and that the operation is repeating the mistake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the war in Vietnam in the 1960s.

In an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the weekly Die Zeit, Germany’s most popular fiction writer Martin Walser said the German government’s “justifications for the war become more grotesque by the hour.” He urged Merkel to “declare peace” in Afghanistan and “gradually pull out our soldiers.”

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