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

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