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May 05, 2009


Dan Hardie

I haven't seen a 'comprehensive trashing' of British military performance in Helmand and Basra. What I have seen are criticisms of the British Army, particularly in Basra, by some un-named US officers but also by the rather knowledgeable Australians David Kilcullen and Daniel Marston. If you have the evidence that Kilcullen's criticisms, or Marston's, were solely motivated by their desire to ramp up perceived threats to the US, kindly present it. I suspect you have none.

I honestly don't know who you think you are helping when you say, as you did in an earlier post, that US criticism of the British Army is 'out of order'. It's not. It is indefensible to respond to a war by ignoring the criticisms of professional soldiers.

There are rather severe legal restrictions on serving British soldiers making criticisms of operational performance, but somebody really does need to be saying what is going wrong. A lot is.

Richard J

Dan> I was reading A Million Bullets the other day - I don't know if you've read it, but if so, how accurate does it seem?


Although Kilcullen's an Australian, he's an Australian who was employed by the US Army and who now works for the US state department. So (whatever the substantive validity of his criticisms), he does have a bit of an interest in bigging up the US Army compared to alternatives (and IIRC, the Kilcullen and Marston criticisms were basically pushback to an original British criticism of what the Americans were doing, weren't they?).

Dan Hardie

'who now works for the US state department.'

Who now works for a US think tank, having left the State Department, and who made some very loud criticisms of the US Army, State Department and Bush Administration before and after he made similar criticisms of the British Army.


And on Dan's substantial point, there's nothing remotely out of order about people in various allied armies criticising each others' methods and operational performance within reason. But the public use made of these criticisms over the last five years has been to play into a big narrative about the USA's NATO allies being useless (all those endless stories about the Germans not flying at night or whatever), which very much does have the look to it of being basically motivated by American unilateralism and a wish on the part of a big part of the US security lobby to have a military that is big enough to go-it-alone more or less everywhere.

I mean, the figurehead for having a go at the British Army over the last year hasn't been David Kilcullen - it's been Secretary Gates (pre-Obama). He wasn't giving technical criticisms of the tactics or operational performance of his allies - he was berating them for being "defeatists" and demanding bigger and bigger contributions from them while steadfastly refusing to allow them any input into the overall strategy. That wasn't constructive at all, and in as much as it was designed to play into a domestic political narrative, it was one of threat escalation.


are you sure of that? His House Armed Services Committee testimony last week lists him as "Partner: Crumpton Group" which is a consultancy with an uninformative website, and the promo material for his book tour says "Pentagon Consultant on Counterinsurgency". I don't want to imply that he's compromised or that he's got somebody's hand up his arse or anything, but as far as I can see he's very personally and professionally identified with the "Sons of Iraq"/Surge strategy.

Dan Hardie

'as far as I can see he's very personally and professionally identified with the "Sons of Iraq"/Surge strategy.'

He is, and that strategy only emerged as the result of loud criticism of the existing strategies- and, at least as importantly, operational practices- of the US Army and State Department.

Asked by Spencer Ackerman what he thought of the invasion of Iraq, Kilcullen said it was 'fucking stupid'- and that was when he was employed by the State Department. When the media went nuts over that, he retracted the word 'fucking' but maintained that the invasion had been a major strategic error.

The things he said about the pre-Petraeus US military tactics in Iraq were even harsher, and he has never retracted them- has in fact amplified them, when speaking to Tom Ricks on the record. The charge that he has talked the Brits down relative to the Americans is insupportable.

Dan Hardie

The Gates and Kilcullen/Marston critiques are largely different. Gates hasn't, that I can see, made any critiques of British operational or tactical procedures in public.

Kilcullen and Marston have, and some of what they have said is being echoed in private by those of us who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Gates's criticisms are of strategy. They are serious and important, but they also point to a wider difficulty which he hasn't publicly addressed (though Dsquared has in his comment).

It's simply true, and not a smear, that serious operations in Afghanistan are being conducted by a small number of the NATO countries: the US, Canada, Britain, Holland and Denmark. France pushed troops into the fighting once Sarko took over and they got an immediate bloody nose. There was a small but very aggressive bunch of Estonian special forces at Bastion last summer. And that's it. It really is true that a lot of NATO countries have troops in Afghanistan doing nothing but eat their rations: I have seen it happen.

But the problem is that 'troops eating their rations' is not costless, when every pallet of supplies has to be driven through Pakistan, across the border and through the southern warzones. There is a lot of fighting in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to secure these supply routes: fighting which is killing civilians, Taliban and NATO soldiers from the fighting countries. A hell of a lot of NATO money is also being spent on this, and there are better uses for it in Afghanistan.

So Gates is right to say that certain NATO countries can't be allowed to have forces in Afghanistan that aren't actually fighting, because they are forcing others to fight and kill, and further alienate the civilian population, on their behalf to protect their logistical routes.

But, as Dsquared notes, what's he offering the other NATO countries? Certainly not an equal share in the strategic direction of the Afghan war. Given that, why the hell should the other NATO countries agree to what Gates wants?

I can't remember whether I've said this in private emails to you or not, Dsquared, but I've certainly been saying for some time now that Afghanistan shows that NATO simply can't fight a war. Real fighting means you have to have clear lines of command. That in turn means giving up much of your strategic autonomy to the country with the biggest army. Most NATO nations are not prepared to do that in Afghanistan.

On the Dornbusch (I think) principle that 'things that cannot last forever, don't', sooner or later we will see the withdrawal of most NATO countries' troops from Afghanistan, with the war being fought, as it is now, by the Americans and a few selected allies.


I wasn't criticising the Kilcullen/SWJ axis of criticism so much as this kind of thing:


...by the author of "America Alone" Even good faith criticism and accurate criticismcan be operationalized in this manner, almost certainly will be in fact.

I think within much of Europe NATO isn't actually conceived as a military alliance at all so much as a policy channel to the US. Most NATO countriers went to Afghanistan basically as a favour to the US rather than to adapt to whatever they encountered on the ground.

Dan Hardie

'Mark Steyn insults wimpy Brits': a story combining the sheer unexpectedness of 'Sun to rise in East tomorrow' and the hard-hitting political relevance of 'Freddie Starr nicked my skateboard, says parrot'.

Given the huge influence Steyn has over the Obama administration, we are surely all doomed.


Steyn doesn't have much influence over the Obama administration (and it is good news to see that Gates has rather dialled it down since February), but I don't think we can write off the wingnut threat forever (rushes off, consults Walt checklist on how to make threats seem worse than they really are ...). It wasn't all that long ago that it really did look like important policy decisions were being made for the reason that Michael Moore is fat, and if the paranoid lobby gets back into a position of influence, it will at least partly be because of tactics like the ones Walt identifies, which have worked stunningly well for them in the past.

One way to look at Jamie's point is that actually it's been a key part of US strategic doctrine for a while to always ensure that every theatre of combat contains its quota of non-American troops sitting around eating their rations. Their particular role is to provide political cover at the United Nations (There were quite a lot of these in Vietnam, particularly a substantial Taiwanese contribution that couldn't be put to use anywhere for fear that they'd bump into Chinese advisors on the other side) and to calm down the isolationist lobby domestically.

Those NATO troops might have been a total deadweight from an operational standpoint, but if you accept that part of the war is the political context to the war (and not recognising this is a big part of what went wrong in Vietnam), then they were playing more of a role than it might have appeared; a game theorist would say that they were basically playing a strategic role similar to that of hostages.

I think it was Herb Simon who coined the rule about things which can't go on forever, but I'm less sure that the NATO command chain dysfunctionality fits into this category - if the non-performing countries are chucked out of the tent, they might start pissing in, politically speaking, and I'd surmise that someone somewhere at the Office Of More Or Less Indefensible Decisions has decided that the situation you describe is an "acceptable"[1] price to pay to avoid the political inconvenience.

[1] "An acceptable rate of unemployment, meaning one which is acceptable to those who have jobs" - JKG, I think in 'The Great Crash'; the analogy to an acceptable rate of casualties or an acceptable level of civilian collateral damage being presumably obvious.

Richard J

It's not especially a US/NATO-specific thing, is it? The whole thing is one of the constantly operating factors of coalition warfare - Wellington & Marlbrough certainly had to include all kinds of useless prettily-uniformed half-trained peasants from German microstates in his armies, and I'd be prepared to bet that Hannibal harboured dark thoughts about certain of his units.

Richard J

And on a minor aside, IIRC, in Vietnam the South Korean contingent had the not-so-secret purpose of being truly nasty bastards you could use to terrorise the locals in a deniable fashion.


I've just remembered the semi-relevant anecdote about the Taiwanese contribution to Vietnam - basically, they had agreed to provide a token force of something like 750 soldiers, but nobody really checked up how many had arrived - the US had set aside their special sitting-around-eating-rations space, and since they were preoccupied with the proper war, thought no more of it.

Until one day someone in the quartermasters' department noted that these 750 troops appeared to be eating a sack of rice a day each, and someone thought to go round to the Taiwanese tents and do a quick head count.

It turned out that there were 10,000 of them, and that when questioned about what the fuck was going on, the random NCO that the quartermaster had cornered volunteered that their orders were that they were going to wait until the final US offensive on Hanoi, then march North and basically keep marching into China.

Thus, with a certain amount of discretion but quite some sense of urgency, did the Taiwanese participation in the Vietnam War come to an end.

I have no idea whether this is true or a pack of lies - I suppose that either me or the missus must have come across it when researching that railway book, but it tickled me.


The alternative is to believe, as Dan Hardie apparently does, that the Germans etc are sitting around in Afghanistan as bouches inutiles despite the fact that the Americans don't want them there, but the Americans are just too polite to ask them to leave. This doesn't seem right somehow.

I also suspect that they are doing rather more than Hardie thinks...

Dan Hardie

The Americans are not 'too polite' to ask the Germans to leave. A public request to the Germans and other forces to leave would spark a major public row, probably between Washington and various European capitals and quite undoubtedly between the Obama administration and Euro-bashing Senators, both Democratic and Republican. For the Obama, Gates, Holbrooke and Clinton, the status quo has costs and so does any attempt to change the status quo.

If Ajay wishes to blame this state of affairs on the nasty man in the comments thread, he is welcome to do so, and I'm sure someone somewhere will applaud his mighty rhetorical victory.

No more replies to me to anyone making downright stupid remarks, btw.

I should probably make it plain- to Jamie, Richard, dsquared and anyone else interested in a serious conversation- that I have serious doubts about the way the US conducts the war in Afghanistan, and I have serious doubts about whether there should even be NATO troops in the country. But it's worth trying to work out what is behind American and NATO policy, because right now, those of us not gifted with comments thread omniscience are having difficulty working it out.

Dan Hardie

if the non-performing countries are chucked out of the tent, they might start pissing in, politically speaking, and I'd surmise that someone somewhere at the Office Of More Or Less Indefensible Decisions has decided that the situation you describe is an "acceptable"[1] price to pay to avoid the political inconvenience.'

Dsquared: completely agree. You can - if 'you' are Barack Obama- get rid of the non-fighting NATO countries in Afghanistan; and then just watch as co-operation with those countries goes up in smoke, and as foreign policy discussions on Capitol Hill get dominated by furriner-bashing rhetoric. Or you can keep thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan doing nothing useful and burdening supply routes which are already close to being cut by the Taliban (and which increase US dependence on the Pakistani military). There are no good options in Afghanistan right now.

Dan Hardie

Richard J: 'One million bullets' struck me as engaging but ultimately weak and incoherent. Fergusson has reported Afghanistan before but there simply isn't enough of the Afghans in his book to make it valuable. Most of the book is a nice account of what British service personnel are like, but that doesn't tell you much about what is going right or wrong in Helmand. He ventures a few arguments in that direction, but I really don't see that he manages to back them up at all. The British are the wrong people for Helmand because in the nineteenth century they got smashed at Maiwand- so no doubt the heavy Canadian and Dutch casualties are because their armies lost imperial wars in Uruzgan and Kandahar. The 'analysis' of 3 Para's 2006 tour is mere cliche. And so on. Patrick Bishop's '3 Para' has some useful accounts of events but is ridiculously gung-ho (I think Fergusson wrote his book largely in reaction to Bishop). He's completely right that anyone who has passed P Company is a god among men, however.

I suspect the most valuable recent book on Afghan is Ahmed Rashid's 'Descent into Chaos', but haven't yet read all of it. Rashid's older books 'Taliban' and 'Jihad' are worth reading. Amin Saikal's history of Afghanistan is very detailed, sometimes stimulating and very much history from above.

Sarah Chayes's 'The Punishment of Virtue' has some valuable accounts of what the Taliban resurgence in Kandahar was like, lots of detail on Gul Agha Sherzai, but has some hideously egocentric passages and what strikes me as pretty naive policy prescriptions (fight harder, crack down on heroin, bingo). Giustozzi's book on the neo-Taliban seemed a little on the abstract side, but maybe I am being unfair.

And I like Rory Stewart's 'The places in between' a lot- it does bring out is the extraordinary atomisation of politics, and of pretty much everything else in Afghanistan, by 2001. Not sure I agree with Rory's recent policy prescriptions, but then I'm not sure I have any myself.

Richard J

I've read Ahmed Rashid's Taliban, but, TBH, I'd kind of let Afghanistan slip from my mental radar until alarmingly recently [1], so I'm looking for a hasty catch up...

The best source on information I've ever known on Afghanistan was someone who claimed to be a Pakistani Pathan and hung round on the Salon Tabletalk forums years ago. Haven't seen him about for years, but there's the odd trace of him still lurking about the place.


[1] The only feeble excuse is that I was very busy at my old job and never really had the free time to concentrate on the news pages on a real-time basis.

Dan Hardie

Forgot Steve Coll's 'Ghost wars', which is very good, much wider than just the CIA stuff the subtitle promises, and fittingly very much about Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Of all the recent battlefield instant histories, Stephen Grey's 'Operation Snakebite' looks like it might be the most intelligent. He has spotted at least one serious flaw in vehicles in theatre that no other journo has picked up on.


Four thousand troops, five provinces, seven locations, the whole of RC North. But apparently the Germans are simply sitting there eating their rations? No one would notice if they left? I really don't think that rings true.

Apart from anything else - why are they still there? The German public doesn't want them there. If DH is to be believed, the US doesn't want or need them there either. So why don't they just declare victory and move on? Leave a token force of a handful of advisers in Kabul if necessary. Fair enough, if Obama came out and said in public "we want the Germans gone cos they're useless" it might cause ructions. But a tactful back-channel hint that their work is now done surely wouldn't?

Not to mention: why is Gates (and presumably) Obama so desperate to get more of these useless mouths?

Dan Hardie

I'm not quite sure why ajay is acting like a teenager with a grudge - did it really hurt that much when I said you were wrong about army medics on that rather silly Chicken Yoghurt thread? You are actually embarrassing yourself here: I do not believe that you could not simply google 'Gates German troops Afghanistan' before asserting things that are not true. But that's what you have done.

To summarise: Robert Gates has criticised the rules of engagement of the German forces in Afghanistan, and their presence in the most peaceful area, the North, rather than in the South and East, where fighting is heaviest. He has explicitly called for their rules of engagement to be changed and for German forces to be moved to the South.

Ajay is firstly pretending that he is not making these calls. Secondly, he is pretending that I am an unabashed partisan of the Gates view, whereas above I write in perfectly plain English that the other NATO nations have very good reasons to reject Gates's requests, since he is not offering them anything significant in return.

My comments can be read above, by anybody other than the Troll Ajay. For one source on Gates's remarks, and dear me there are a lot of others, let's turn the microphone over to that well-known anti-German propaganda sheet, Der Spiegel:


'When the NATO defense ministers meet in Vilnius, Lithuania next Thursday, Afghanistan promises to be number one on the agenda. Specifically, the demands made by the US and Canada that Germany send combat soldiers to the southern part of the country.

Jung already has a good idea of what awaits him in the Lithuanian capital. Earlier this week, he received a confidential letter from the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In the eight page missive, Gates made US expectations clear when it comes to NATO's strategy in Afghanistan.

And they're quite a bit different from Jung's position. Last year, the German defense minister presented a paper on "integrated security" and civilian-military reconstruction. Gates, on the other hand, places the emphasis on combat -- for him, counterinsurgency, the armed fight against the Islamist insurgency, has priority.

This focus, Gates writes in his letter, explains why Washington is now sending 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan -- troops which will join the 26,000 soldiers already stationed in Afghanistan. The Marines, though, will stay for seven months at the most, after which other NATO allies are expected to take up the slack. Where Gates is pointing the finger, though, is clear: at the Germans.

Early in the week, the Canadians also ramped up the pressure on Berlin. After losing 78 soldiers in Afghanistan, Ottawa issued a clear threat to its allies at NATO headquarters in Brussels: Either the Europeans send 1,000 combat troops, together with helicopters, to Kandahar, or Canada will completely withdraw its roughly 2,500 soldiers from Afghanistan next year.

The Canadians also announced that they plan to hold "targeted talks with individual nations" in Vilnius. This effort is also directed mainly at Germany.

Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, currently has about 3,340 of its total of 250,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. Although the Bundeswehr's Afghanistan campaign is already deeply controversial in Germany, the United States and Canada feel that the Germans aren't contributing enough to the NATO effort.

Officials at the German defense ministry have called the Gates letter an "outrage." The Americans, they say, are fully aware of the special circumstances -- conditions imposed by the German parliament -- under which German forces currently operate in Afghanistan.

So far the German government has managed to fend off all demands to send troops to the war-torn south. This time Jung hopes to defuse the allies' objections by citing Germany's strengthened commitment in northern Afghanistan.

Jung plans to tell NATO allies that Germany is willing to provide a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to replace an outgoing group of 250 Norwegian soldiers. NATO headquarters requested the commitment in a letter on Monday.

The role of the Norwegian troops has been to augment patrols, protect aid convoys and rush to the aid of fellow soldiers in distress. But their mandate also includes direct combat -- and last autumn, the Norwegian QRF fought alongside Afghan troops against the Taliban. At least 14 enemy fighters were killed in the campaign.

To replace the Norwegian contingent, Jung plans to send about 250 paratroopers and armored infantrymen, as well as armored personnel carriers and mortars to Afghanistan this summer. During a visit to Afghanistan this week, Jung promised that the new German forces would be "well-trained and well-equipped."

But equipment will not be the Germans' biggest problem in the upcoming mission. From the standpoint of NATO military leaders, the German QRF unit cannot be used in the kind of offensive operation against insurgents that the Norwegians waged against the Taliban. The German government has submitted a confidential "proviso" to NATO that imposes restrictive conditions on NATO commanders when using German troops.

Under the conditions, German soldiers are "barred from the use of deadly force unless an attack is underway or is imminent." In other words, the German troops are only allowed to shoot in self-defense. Strictly speaking, the Germans would have to leave Taliban units untouched if they were merely forming but had not opened fire.

This sort of restriction defies both the demands of US Defense Secretary Gates and NATO practice. It has long been standard for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to actively track down and kill Taliban leaders. Bombing campaigns are also conducted against Taliban units, even when they are not specifically attacking ISAF troops.

In Vilnius, allies and NATO military leaders are expected to urge Jung to abandon the current rules of engagement for German soldiers, thereby forcing him to react to the dramatic situation in Afghanistan. The ISAF stabilization mission, which initially was rarely involved in combat operations, has turned into a combat effort in many parts of the country, and allies will likely demand that Germany, as a NATO partner, do its part and fight alongside its allies -- without conditions.

A look at the Bundeswehr's Web site reveals the extent to which Jung's department has ignored reality. According to the site, fighting the Taliban is the "responsibility of the (US-led) Operation Enduring Freedom," and is thus "strictly separated" from NATO's ISAF mission.'

Chris Williams

It's genuinely good to have you back, Dan, but it would be yet nicer if you could begin to accept (perhaps initially only as a hypothetical point?) that maybe not everyone you disagree with needs to be called rude names.

Dan Hardie

Yes, Chris, I actually do that, as you can see for yourself when you read the exchange between Daniel Davies and myself above. When people troll me I don't bother with the courtesies. I don't actually believe that you read ajay's comments and said 'poor chap, he is just trying to engage in good faith'.


Dan, I promise I'm not trying to troll you. I am just disagreeing with you.

I'm well aware of Gates' comments on the German contribution and their restrictive ROE.
The Germans are doing less than they could - I agree with you on this one.
The Germans are doing less than they should - I probably also agree.
But I do not agree with you that they are doing nothing except consuming rations, because if that were so then they could leave RC North tomorrow without having any effect on the military situation, and I just don't think that's true. If the Germans left RC North then someone else would have to pick up the slack.

I also am not sure that dsquared's analysis explains everything, because if it did then the only function of the German presence would be to ensure German political support, and I suspect that this could be achieved as well with a rather cheaper deployment (a company instead of 3500 troops) which would be better for Germany (fewer costs, fewer casualties) and for ISAF (less logistic burden).

Descent into Chaos is very good; though I occasionally suspect Rashid of having grown a little close to his sources, and Karzai in particular. Heaven knows I don't blame him for this, but it's a point worth remembering.


Thinking about it, I don't need to do my poor man's Schelling act here; if the situation at present is that the German troops are

a) there
b) not fighting

and Gates wants them

a) there
b) fighting

then he's not going to send them home, because

a) not there
b) not fighting (or not fighting the Taliban at least)

isn't a step on the path to what he wants to achieve.

Also, in a lot of military matters, "they also serve who only stand and wait" - simply by sitting around eating their rations, the Germans make sure that nobody else can sit around in the same location without fighting the Germans, and if the territory is worth having but not fighting for (as a Welshman, I am perhaps more familiar with this category than most), then just plonking them there eating NAAFI sausages deprives the Taliban of territory that they would take if doing so was costless, and is therefore better than literally nothing. In other words, "doing nothing except consuming rations" does not encessarily imply "could leave without having any effect". Isn't there a bit in one of Schelling's books on the correct deployment of basically useless troops as a strategic "trip-wire"?


But if Gates gives up on ever getting the Germans fighting, he might decide that (not there, not fighting) is a cheaper equivalent to (there, not fighting).

Also, if the Germans really were just sitting there eating, and never went out on patrols or engaged with the population at all, it's perfectly possible that the Taliban could control the entire province except for the bits inside the German perimeter wire. This used to happen all the time in Vietnam; having an ARVN base in a village was no barrier to the VC running the village, because the ARVN never went out of the base. The tripwire concept works much better in conventional war.


You might be right - I really don't know anything about the bit of Afghanistan the Germans are in and am pretty much flapping my gums, I dimly realise.

Dan Hardie

Dsquared: If 'Gates wants them (German soldiers)

a) there
b) fighting

then he's not going to send them home, because

a) not there
b) not fighting (or not fighting the Taliban at least)
isn't a step on the path to what he wants to achieve.'

As I noted above, it *is* a step on the path that he wants to achieve, because having soldiers of any nation not there and not fighting is *not costless*.

As far as I can see: beats which beats , if you are Gates or David Petraeus. If you are Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, however, you may decide that beats , since the cost of achieving the latter may be a filthy row with certain Western Europeans, the loss of co-operation over other foreign policy goals and the revival of American Euro-bashing rhetoric.

Troops who are present but not fighting have to be supplied through Pakistan and the southern provinces, which in turn means heavier fighting to keep the supply routes open, and increases dependence on the Pakistani army, as well as eating up large chunks of the NATO operating budget. 'Tripwire' stuff makes sense if you are trying to deter a state from invading your territory, and have the nuclear or large-scale conventional forces necessary to do so. It is of no relevance to a guerrilla campaign. The Taliban 'retook' large areas of the South by walking into the local villages, talking to villagers, handing down legal rulings because the local courts were inept or corrupt, and, where necessary, threatening or killing those who were hostile to them. Ask Conor Foley, or read Sarah Chayes.

Dan Hardie

Oops, problems with parentheses. Using inverted commas instead:

As far as I can see: 'there and fighting' beats 'not there and not fighting' which beats 'there and not fighting' , if you are Gates or David Petraeus. If you are Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, however, you may decide that 'there and not fighting' beats 'not there and not fighting', since the cost of achieving the latter may be a filthy row with certain Western Europeans, the loss of co-operation over other foreign policy goals and the revival of American Euro-bashing rhetoric.

Dan Hardie

Ajay, olive branch accepted, but the spat was unnecessary to start with: I clearly wasn't parroting Gates's line, my original point was aimed against the British rather than the German military, and I criticised 'other NATO countries' rather than simply 'the Germans'. The Germans may be doing things wrong in the North, but NATO has 28 member states, and currently six or seven are doing the fighting.

There may be a need for some NATO forces in the North- though we ought to seriously consider the point that Taliban violence in the North is so low that foreign troops can be safely withdrawn, perhaps bar a small team of border observers or the like. The first German to be killed in action in RC-North was killed last month (they did have some people blown up in Kabul).

I'll reiterate that troops serve no useful purpose if their rules of engagement effectively bar them from combat. If there is a situation in the North which requires the presence of soldiers, either to fight or to credibly threaten to fight, then the Germans are not such a force and won't be until their ROE change. And if there's not a situation in the North which requires fighting troops, why have several expensively-supplied German battalions there?

But the same questions need to be asked of most of the other NATO militaries, who are also making expensive token contributions to ISAF.

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