The Germans could soon have the opportunity to test their new strategy in areas other than the relatively secure north. In the 70 pages of his 60-day progress report distributed on Thursday to members of the NATO Council, McChrystal calls for more troops in Afghanistan, although he argues that improving the allies' commitment to civilian reconstruction is even more important.
McChrystal now wants to divide Afghanistan into regional danger zones, classified as 1, 2 or 3 depending on the level of threat, which would diminish the importance of the current division into four geographic zones (north, south, east and west). In addition, McChrystal's plan calls for limiting the NATO effort to hot spots in the future. The plan is to secure the peace in 15 to 20 critical provinces, partly through massive military deployments but also through even greater civilian efforts.
To be able to implement this strategy, however, McChrystal would have to eliminate the current restrictions on where troops can be deployed. "This will soon lead to calls for German soldiers to begin fighting in the south," fears a senior German officer. Up until now, German forces have been restricted to the less violent north of the country.
For McChrystal, setting clear goals for Afghan security forces is even more critical. Under his new plan, the size of the Afghan national army would be increased to about 250,000 troops and that of the Afghan police to 160,000 officers by 2013.
In setting these parameters, the American general squarely disagrees with the opinion of German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung. More than two weeks ago, Jung announced that Afghanistan would be capable of providing its own security with a military force of 134,000 troops and the same number of police officers. McChrystal's new strategy, however, will likely trigger new demands on the Germans to provide significantly more trainers and resources.
But the Germans should first of all focus on providing better training and equipment for their own soldiers. It's not just the Rover devices which leave something to be desired. General Vollmer's classified report provides a sharp contrast to Defense Minister Jung's claims that the soldiers in Afghanistan are properly equipped and trained. According to an earlier SPIEGEL report on equipment deficiencies, Jung's press spokesman, Thomas Raabe, "proudly" reiterated in late August "that we have very good equipment." Unfortunately, this is inconsistent with the general's experience, judging by the long list of deficiencies he submitted in August.
On sunny days, the temperature inside a "Marder" armored personnel carrier can reach 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit). Even soldiers who are used to saunas cannot tolerate such temperatures for more than half an hour, say doctors. The Marder has been used in Afghanistan for close to three years, yet it still lacks air-conditioning.
Despite military officials' claims to the contrary, German armored vehicles have many deficiencies. Between January and July alone, a total of 38 German vehicles have "broken down or been destroyed" -- and they have not been properly replaced. This, Vollmer writes, has "diminished operational capabilities, particularly in the Kunduz region."