Afghan retreat. German army veterans feel ‘anger and grief’ at fall of Kunduz

The United States isn’t the only nation withdrawing its military from Afghanistan. The Germans were part of the NATO force which has been involved in the so called War on Terror the past 20 years

The situation is horrific. Germany and America can’t acts as the world’s self appointed policeman. The British and Russians occupied Afghanistan. Both nations eventually withdrew after years of struggle, loss of life, domestic political turmoil and money spent to no good end.

Now the citizens of Afghanistan are facing the return of the brutal and misogynistic Taliban rule. It is an unfolding humane crisis and horror story.

Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 8.10.2021

The sight of Taliban fighters overrunning Kunduz in Afghanistan has triggered anger, grief and helplessness among German veterans who fought to free the Afghan city. Many now fear for the Afghans who helped them.

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The fall of Kunduz to the Taliban is a devastating psychological blow to many German Bundeswehr soldiers, according to veterans of Germany’s two-decade mission in Afghanistan.

“It triggered an earthquake in the emotions of veterans,” said Wolf Gregis, a former soldier and now an author and professor of pedagogy at the University of Rostock. “No other place is associated so much with the death toll that the German military suffered than Kunduz itself.”

“It feels extremely shitty,” said Johannes Clair, a former Bundeswehr corporal who published a book about his seven-month mission in Kunduz from 2010 to 2011. “We left blood, sweat and tears there,´; our comrades were killed there. And it was predictable. In 2014, when the combat troops were withdrawn, it was clear that the Afghan forces were not going to be able to control the situation on their own.”

“The second thing is that, while we’re all back home, the Afghans over there are in mortal danger, especially those that cooperated with the West — that makes it even worse,” he added. “Now I’m sitting here and I can’t do anything about it.”

At the same time, Clair thinks the final withdrawal of Western troops this year was inevitable and logical because the whole mission had simply become what he called an “alibi mission — half-hearted. That’s why I’m angry, because even though the fundamental problems in Afghanistan have long been known, even in 2010 when I was there, they were never addressed properly,” he told DW. 

For years, he said, NATO and the German government stumbled from one strategy to the next, hoping that it would work out, but largely because the mission was unpopular back home, the government never properly committed to its mission. That all culminated in the withdrawal of combat troops in 2014. “It was completely clear then that the positive effects that we had caused were not sustainable,” he said. “We betrayed all the work we did there, but more than anything we betrayed the Afghans.”

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German Bundeswehr troops leave Afghanistan

It was in the Kunduz province that the Bundeswehr suffered the most casualties and where the events that shaped the German public’s abiding images of the Afghanistan war took place. “This is the place where German soldiers first learned on a large-scale what fighting and dying in an asymmetric war meant and how ugly that is,” said Gregis, (the name is a pseudonym, which he prefers to go by).

Though it was initially seen as one of the safest provinces in the country, where Germany could take command of one of the NATO alliance’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams and help build new infrastructure, fighting grew heavier in the region from 2006 onwards. It was Kunduz, according to Gregis, that put the purpose of Germany’s mission in Afghanistan to the test. 

Several horrific incidents happened in the province: In September 2009, a German officer ordered a US airstrike on an oil truck that left over a hundred civilians dead, causing a scandal back home that eventually cost then-Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung his Cabinet office. A year later, German soldiers were increasingly finding themselves in firefights with the Taliban, especially when a patrol was ambushed and pinned down in the nine-hour “Good Friday battle” of April 2010. Three soldiers were killed and eight more injured, their lives saved by a US helicopter.