February 2nd, 2010
07:27 AM ET

NATO's third largest force in Afghanistan changing its strategy

Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan - Behind the U.S. and Great Britain, Germany has the third highest number of troops in Afghanistan and commands NATO’s operations in the north of the country. Around 4,500 German soldiers are currently stationed in Mazar-e Sharif, Faisabad and Kunduz, where they face a growing Taliban insurgency. In the run-up to the Afghanistan conference in London last week, Germany committed 500 additional soldiers to the International Security Assistance Force.

But the country has also promised a massive shift in its strategy toward a training and mentoring force that will join the Afghan army in combat. I was in Mazar-e Sharif recently to see the soldiers gear up for their new mode of operating.  See more photos

“I think we will see some results quickly,” Brig. Gen. Frank Leidenbeger, the commander of NATO forces in all of Northern Afghanistan told me before I went on patrol with a unit known as the quick reaction force around Mazar E Sharif.  Watch more from the general and the changing strategy

The soldiers currently patrol the streets in their heavily armored vehicles and rarely come into contact with the local population. In the future, however, they will conduct all patrols and operations in cooperation with Afghan Security Forces and often travel on foot to show their presence to the Afghans. Watch the soldiers on patrol

This concept is known as “partnering” and the U.S. has been urging its allies to operate in this fashion for a while.

“We know the risk might be a little bigger,” the leader of the patrol I am with tells me, “but we are ready. The one time we did get out of our vehicles and spoke to people they really liked and spoke to us.”

Other soldiers have echoed this sentiment, saying they believe operating and even living with their Afghan counterparts will bring the Afghan National Security Forces up to speed faster, while giving NATO a larger presence within the towns and villages so often infiltrated by the Taliban.

Germany, however, is keen to get out of Afghanistan as soon as security conditions permit. The NATO mission is deeply unpopular among Germans, which some 70 percent saying their forces should leave in a recent poll.

“I think it is quite impossible for the international community to win a war in Afghanistan,” Germany’s Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg told me recently. “Winning will mean security, a perspective for the Afghan people and winning an Afghan face and not a desperate international face.” Watch Germany's defense minister on what winning looks like in Afghanistan

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. RT

    In the frontlines of a battlefield, warriors live or die – for a cause – right it must be as perceived from both side of the antagonists.

    The directors seat and watch – prepare nice phrases for those who fall with best performance as needed for propaganda to fight some more.

    In any battlefield, performance of weapons for human/animal eleimination are observed and further improved – to terminate more onward – or to sell more of these?

    When will we ever learn?

    February 28, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Torben Schmidt

    To Chris. That's too silly to say, that NATO forces should come to your aid at september 11, 2001. You were not under attack from foreign troops. It was a terrorist attack, which NATO can do nothing about. What about the terrorist attacks in Spain and Britain ? Were US and other NATO forces called in there to "defend" them ?

    February 14, 2010 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. Torben Schmidt

    To Larry. The fighting is not just done by american,british and canadian forces. Forces from my country, Denmark, have now been fighting for more than two years, and stationed permanently there in the tough Helmand province, where the toughest fighting have been going on, fighting alongside the british, with both our special forces, armored infantry, and tank-units. We have also lost a lot of lives, and are also included in the operation moshtarak, among other forces, our leopard tanks. This is a NATO-operation. It's not just americans suffering.

    February 14, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. michael

    You radical muslim if you don't like America get out!!!!!

    February 6, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. B. David

    A previous CNN/Time article that takes not Vietnam or Korea or China as the template for winning these kinds of insurgencies or wars on terror or wars of national liberation (the names differ but the geoplitical plays are the same) is right.

    The template for winning are the US-Indian (native american) wars and the Philippine American War a.k.a. the Philippine Insurrection of 1899. In these wars, the Native American Population was reduced to 20% and 1/6th of the Philippine populace was killed off before they could be and were rehabilitated under the tutelage of the US Government. The Native Americans got their tribal governments and casinos. The Filipinos got their independence and the kinds of government they deserved.

    On the other hand, insurgencies, wars on terror and wars of national liberation have become more sophisticated and have even become capable of defeating the almighty US. China with its successful 1949 victory which marginalized Chiang Kai Shek into the Taiwan islands, Cuba, the Korean "stalemate", the Vietnamese peoples' victory, and the various forms of "victories" by the Latin Americans are sufficient food for thought for the "remaining superpower". Robert Gates' military genius is quite extraordinary in its ability to conceptually apply military strategies and tactics to try to cope with this diversity of US enemies and potential enemies.

    What we need though are thinkers and doers who would complement this military expansionist and economic dominationist history and current as well as future policy with the concepts and actions of Gandhi and King. It is just unfortunate that President Obama has thrown this "no less strong active non-violence" up to the heavens as mere beacons instead of making them earthbound policies and social experiments (as all efforts at bettering man's lot are experiments) that should govern American civil life.

    February 4, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 1st Gen American

    First of all, Nathan, I don't think you should be living in our wonderful country if thats how you feel. Those comments are borderline radical. Maybe you should take a trip to the tribal areas of Pakistan where your views will be widley accepted.

    Reading these comments by members of our armed forces is a real pleasure. I look forword to more imput by the men and women who understand the situation best. Those comments are just another example of why I'm proud to be American and to have such great representatives in the Department of Defense. Keep up the good work! And know that for every American that may criticize your efforts, there are American's like me that support you 110%.

    February 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mohamed

    Poor Afghans civilians, how much do they have to suffer?

    February 4, 2010 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nathan

    To sya "the risk is higher" is a misundersatnding of the whole project which aims to take over Afghan minds and prop up a puppet government and call it nation-building and peace-making ! These Taliban and others are freedom fighters as they totally refuse to be ordered about in their own country by invaders as any sane, free person anywhere else would refuse ! Why does America think they are "freeing" Afghanistan? They do not want or need anyone to free them from Taliban or any other government as they are capable of that themselves.
    I am a Muslim and even tho I disagree with many of Talibans interpretations of Islam as extreme and some as downright ignorant, they caould have been changed and educated by other Muslims, even Americans. I know that no-one will ever win in Afghanistan and this is a futile war being fought to sustain the American weapons factories and create jobs in the Army for poor Americans to keep them away from politics ! Its an old game played by governments when they cannot resolve internal problems, to creat an external one and mis-direct and misinform the population !!

    February 4, 2010 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. MAJ Corona (U.S. Army)

    The US Afghanistan exit strategy is centered on assisting the Afghanistan people with building a state government that is able to provide—at minimum—a modicum of security and governance.
    I agree with the Germany’s new Afghanistan strategy, because it falls in line with the US exit strategy.
    More attention and resources are being devoted to developing Afghanistan security forces. The first requirement for success in the counterinsurgency campaign is to secure the population. The US continues to solicit assistance and resources from the international community to help develop a self sufficient Afghanistan national security force and Germany’s new strategy will help realize the emergence of a sufficient Afghanistan national security force.
    Insurgencies can be won or lost at the local level, because securing the support of the population requires understanding the specific issues that cause it to sympathize with one side or the other. Local communities are unlikely to assist the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghanistan government until these entities demonstrates that they are fully willing and able to drive out the Taliban and provide some level of lasting security and competent governance. Seizing the initiative from the Taliban and reestablishing political order requires securing the population, developing an understanding of the needs of local communities, and then addressing their needs before the insurgents can exploit the situation to their own ends. A grand strategy in helping the local communities’ address their needs will help to strengthen the legitimacy of the central government and that grand strategy is underway. The German forces will do less convoy patrols in their armored vehicles and more foot patrol with local Afghanistan forces. This partnership will provide the local authorities with technical advice critically needed to help the Afghan local communities become self sufficient. Germany’s strategy includes pledges of millions of dollars to support civil reconstruction programs.
    This grand strategy to help the local communities enforce law followed by the commitment of support for reconstruction programs is the correct approach to win the hearts and minds of the Afghanistan people.

    February 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill Wallis

    In response to: "I think the west is being sucked farther into a war that will never end. I don't think the Afgans are happy to see all these foreign troops on their soil." Most Afghans are happy that coalition forces are there. They actually are worried about when we leave. They don't want the Taliban to come back and tear up the country, but they also don't want to have a corrupt government that only looks good from afar. I've been in the military for 12 years, and have seen more than my share of NATO partners in every hotspot I've deployed to. The comment: "What is it with the Germans...and NATO in general. The entire purpose of NATO is to act a mutual defense entity." NATO came to our aid after the attack on the US, and is still fighting. Now we're in a long fight against insurgents, hunting terrorists, and in nation rebuilding. The mission is now a bit fuzzy. Each country is doing what it can, when you take all the separate political considerations into account. Each country has different size militaries and capabilities, and may not be able to contribute the same amount as another country. Rick makes a good point about Canada. Most places that the US is fighting, the Brits, Aussies, and Canadians are there, and in full force. But you can only keep pouring money and troops into an area for so long. Afghanistan is only one hotspot, and everyone always needs or wants help (Africa, Haiti, Iraq, recovering Asian countries, etc.). (This statement is a personal opinion, and does not reflect the views of the US Department of Defense)

    February 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill Wallis

    A few points of clarification from a military perspective:
    "But to say:"We know the risk might be a little bigger,” is wrong."
    What they meant was the RISK to ground forces is bigger since they would walk with Afghan patrols, not ride in vehicles. Being out of vehicles exposes them to the insurgents, and doing joint patrols has inherent danger due to Taliban forces posing as Afghan army trainees (similar to the Iraq experiments). Ground commanders are taking an increased risk by changing the strategy of limiting mounted (in vehicles) patrols, so that ISAF troops can talk to the locals and build trust. This worked wonders in Iraq, but has not sold the Afghanis yet.
    "it is a vast mistake to train the Afghanistan military forces in Nato and American military tactics." The sad thing is, NO ONE else is going to swoop in and help Afghanistan rebuild their country. We have no other forces that can come in and be advisors. So by default, the Afghanistan army/air force and police force are trained in US or NATO tactics. Yes, there is a risk of teaching them how we fight, but the Afghanis have to have starting point; otherwise we will never be able to completely hand things over to them. (This statement is a personal opinion, and does not reflect the views of the US Department of Defense)

    February 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. James

    Big deal, third largest force that does nothing but sits up north and rides around in their armoured vehicles. They should be rotated with the rest of the NATO countries that hide up north, into Helman province in the south. Thats where the U.S., Brits and Canadians are doing the fighting and dying.

    February 3, 2010 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. AM

    looks like US/Western powers have realized that it is time to bring in peace in afghanistan, so now there is policy of appeasement. there was no single Afghan/Pakistan in 9-11.
    there were Saudis, yemenis, egyptians, etc, yet all the brunt is borne out by poor Afghanis/Pakistanis and ofcourse the iraqis. might is right!
    Afghanistan has never been and will never been sub-dued. there has never been a strong sustaining central government in afghanistan. the us has to keep buying the allegiances and pay ransom to keep going, the moment they stop, they will have to face the warrior of afghanistan. there is a common saying, you cannot fight the afghans, but you can buy them. so....keep wasting US taxpayers money to beef up banks, corp, and oil companies, their real eyes are on rich resources of central asia, 9-11, iraq, afghansitan and now Pakistan are just guinea pigs. sad but true.

    February 3, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. B. David

    A. smith is right. The Haqqanis were supported by the US during the war with the Soviets. So were the Taliban, bin Laden and lots of the US' enemies there now – and all over the place as Al Qaeda and various mujahedin.

    The coalition is indeed, currently building up the military and logistical capabilities of its future enemies. Good business for the "defense" and finance industries of the coalition. They earn equipping future enemies; and earn by trying to wipe them out later.

    Bad business for their taxpayers who pay for this and future wars through current and future recessions and depressions. But these also create jobs in between recessions and recessions. So what else is new?

    Anyway, as Pres. Obana said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, we continue to have Gandhi and King's nonviolence as our guiding beacons (in the heavens). Meanwhile, long live war!!! Will somebody stop the hypocrisy?

    February 2, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. A. Smith, Oregon

    Beyond training in police action, it is a vast mistake to train the Afghanistan military forces in Nato and American military tactics. History indicates over and over again in these conflicts that they same fighters and those they train become America's enemy's whom American soldiers will fight against in the future.

    February 2, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Rick

    Larry,

    Nice comments. It appears that you must also be the the singular mind that the US and UK both won WWII and I on their own. Being a Canadian and serving in the Candian military and having deployed for the past 28 years to the trouble spots of the world, I can attest that you guys alone aren't the only ones in or on the front line. Read the news beyond your overly right-wing stuff and pay attention to the efforts of others. I am certainly aware of the world around me and participated in numerous fights, as a nation alone and with other partners, to dispel your short-sightedness. Canada, Australia and others are in the thick of things daily, with others and yet you chose the slag the world as a whole – great vision.

    My god, you probably still believe that the 9/11 WTC bombers came from Canada also.

    February 2, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  17. Chris

    What is it with the Germans...and NATO in general. The entire purpose of NATO is to act a mutual defense entity. When we were attacked in September of 2001, every NATO nation was obligated to send troops to help with America's defense. It has been a constant struggle to get and keep NATO troops to honor thier obligations to NATO. If Germany had been attacked in the same manner as we were, I feel certain they would be demanding that we honor our obligation to defend them. At this point they should stand up and shut up.

    February 2, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  18. Theo

    It is so reassuring to know that we can always count on our european allies to stand behind us through thick and thin. There have been so many occasions (post Marshall Plan) that they have come to our aid. Let me count the ways...

    February 2, 2010 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  19. BPH

    Its about time they understand.

    February 2, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  20. Larry

    Nato: If everyone is spending the same amount of money and has the same amount of Their Military as we do!!! Why is it only The United States & England having the most money spent & the most Of Their People dieing??? The United Nation & Nato should be the ones fighting over there not The Americans & English People!!! Who made us the Police for the World??? If They want Us to Police the World They should be paying for it and not Us!!! Our Country is in the whole so That The World would be better,,, Where is that fair to The American People??? We can use the money Here to take care of Our Own People!!!

    February 2, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  21. Tony

    I think the west is being sucked farther into a war that will never end. I don't think the Afgans are happy to see all these foreign troops on their soil.

    February 2, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  22. dave

    Of course it's unpopular in Germany. No one wants to spend money and risk lives when they know that Uncle Stupid will do it for them. They'd rather be back home building cars and machinery, putting it on ships and selling for a nice profit.

    February 2, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  23. Elke, Germany

    I think it´s good that there is a shift toward more training and mentoring. When we want to speed up the Afghan Army then we have to do more. And it´s also not wrong to join the Afghan army in combat. And to show more presence can´t be wrong. But to say:"We know the risk might be a little bigger,” is wrong.
    I think what Defence Minister Guttenberg said is the right way to see it.
    I hpoe that all efforts and money plunged into Afghanistan will bring more security, stability and a better future for the Afgahn people.
    On the other hand I think the donar countries and foreign forces should keep an eye on what the Afghan Government is doing. When the Afghan people have no trust in their own government, why should we?

    February 2, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |