A detrimental effect of ISAF

The German forces in ISAF are restricted in their options by political directions. German government politicians want our troops to participate for the sake of foreign policy credit, but they don't want to support real warfare over there. The result are restrictions which prevent an aggressive stance against the armed opposition to the mayor of Kabul and his cronies. The army units there have been reduced to bandogs on a really, really short chain, unable to influence the outside world much. The troops make the best of it and live mostly in their camp, turning it into an acceptable human habitat.

This is mirrored by a disappointing police training effort that's hampered by the fact that German policemen are not really deployable and policing is an almost entirely state, not federal task in Germany.

The smallish military effectiveness that results from this policy has become ever more visible in the last two years. This happened because failures elsewhere in Afghanistan and the redeployment of halfway effective Afghan security forces from the German area of responsibility into the South have allowed the Taliban to return in some strength to the North. The other 'pro-Mayor of Kabul 'armed forces in the country are apparently on the operational and strategic level no more successful, no matter how hard they try.

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The visible low military performance is not representative for conventional warfare, when the PC gloves are off. Yet, it's not a safe assumption that this detail is understood everywhere, for the ISAF engagement also exposed some typical peacetime routine idiocies that reveal how much the army has distanced itself from its fearsome predecessors.

The exposure of peacetime decline in military effectiveness can be (and is) sharp. German military history has a very unsettling example: The Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1807.

The army of Prussia had fought extremely well in 1756-1763 (Seven Years War) against the armies of several much greater powers (France, Austria-Hungary, Russia). The Battle of Leuthen early in that war is one of military history's finest oblique order battle tactics examples and showed off the great standard of Prussian training and discipline of that time.

Half a century later - after almost no hot conflicts - the very same Prussian army was defeated in the parallel battles of Jena and Auerstedt by the Napoleonic French army. Logistical failures, tactical failures, training failures and a lack of innovation had caused a great defeat and almost ended the history of Prussia itself.

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I conclude that the ISAF mission exposes weaknesses of the Heer and - even more important - gives many people the impression of it being much less effective than it really would be in conventional warfare.

This is a serious problem, not the least because it means that the mission has probably a net damaging effect on the constitutional mission of the Bundeswehr:

Article 87a
Armed Forces
(1) The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defence. Their numerical strength and general organisational structure must be shown in the budget.
(2) Apart from defence, the Armed Forces may be employed only to the extent expressly permitted by this Basic Law.
(3) [...]
(4) [...]

The "purpose of defence" is first and foremost about deterrence, and deterrence depends on the impression of military effectiveness which you make on others.

I'll add this to the long list of contra-ISAF arguments, maybe I'll sometime find a viable argument for the pro-ISAF argument list, too.



  1. I think perhaps you overestimate the damage, or perhaps I just dont follow the German press enough.

    The damage to the UK armed forces has been vast, fighting the two wars has exposed the rampant and tolerated incompetance within the officer corps, which still insists it won in Basra.
    Along with massive cuts to procurement budgets to fund the wars, no new army vehicles, no new navy ships and no weapons actualy functioning on the new RAF jets, and even further, a reroling of what little funding there was away from war fighting and towards skirmishing has left the UK armed forces in quite a sorry state.

    I just dont see anything on that scale on the German side.
    They've not done well, but thats a political outcome and no one seriously claims they infact did brilliantly.

  2. I hope you will like some Danish perspectives on this question you raise:

    Restrictions are – unfortunately – not a novel invention, but something that has been around since the End of Cold War. The Cold War was really the last war that was imagined to “total” and thus a “real” war. The “new” kind of wars we have faced has really been a lot of small wars and there is nothing unusual about them (4GW is mostly hype) except technology has changed a few basic things. But “small” wars make it possible for politicians to claim that the current wars are really something different than they really are. Just like the “Ministry of War” has become the “Ministry of Defence” or “Department of Defence” war has been renamed several times to “conflicts”, “humanitarian operations” etc.

    Sometimes this creates an awful lot of troubles. During the war against Yugoslavia in 1999 Danish fighter pilots were in secret instructed by the Danish military – if shot down – to demand Prisoners of War status. Why? Well, because NATO denied there was a war going on and if there was no war how can you claim you are a POW? The Danish military disagreed, but only in secret.

    When Denmark decided to send forces to Iraq after the Anglo-American invasion in March-April 2003 the Danish government claimed the forces were a part of stabilization force and were not occupiers. They were, however, also a part of the British division in Southern Iraq and therefore a part of the occupation, but according to Danish legal experts without becoming occupiers themselves. In reality this attempt to create a distinction wasn’t believed by anyone in Denmark or outside, but it did manage to create a tremendous amount of confusion within the military. Especially when it came to the question of prisoners. When Danish soldiers took Iraqi civilians as prisoners how were they to be treated? What could the Danish military do? Could they hand them over to the British or even the Iraqi Government? A female Danish intelligence officer was in 2004 accused of war crimes because of her treatment of Iraqi prisoners, but exactly because of the legal confusion surrounding the Danish military presence in Iraq she was also acquitted.

    I could continue.

    And just today I heard Danish officers complain that they have to spend 85 percent of their time in Helmand doing paper work and not fighting the Taleban.