Germany begins to flex military muscle in Afghanistan

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Analysts say the more muscular posture comes not only in response to a growing threat but also a desire to quiet doubts in the United States and among other allies that Germany is fully committed to stabilising Afghanistan.

Berlin -- Rattled by increasingly brazen insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, German NATO troops have gone on the offensive with a rare raid to capture a Taliban commander and threatened Friday to target more.

The operation by German KSK special forces and Afghan troops on Thursday and the public sabre-rattling in Berlin mark a dramatic shift for Germany, where the Afghanistan mission is extremely unpopular.

Analysts say the more muscular posture comes not only in response to a growing threat but also a desire to quiet doubts in the United States and among other allies that Germany is fully committed to stabilising Afghanistan.

Three days before a visit to Berlin by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, officials in Berlin trumpeted the capture of alleged insurgent leader Abdul Razeq blamed for a string of high-profile attacks in northern Afghanistan.

"With this successful operation, which was long planned and in which a major terror suspect was arrested, German forces demonstrated their effectiveness," Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said.

A state secretary at the ministry, Christian Schmidt, added that Abdul Razeq was "not the only one we have in our sights."

And a ministry spokesman said Friday: "Those who attack our soldiers need to know that they will be hunted".

Until now -- and to the frustration of some of its NATO allies -- Germany had put the accent on reconstruction and training in Afghanistan, where it has the third largest contingent behind the United States and Britain.

Berlin has long said its priority is to help Afghanistan begin to ensure its own defence and rebuild after several war-ravaged decades.

But those goals "are under threat by a growing number of attacks," which is why the German government is beginning to talk tough, said Henning Riecke of the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin think-tank.

Riecke said the message was also targeted at Washington to show the administration of US President Barack Obama that it takes all aspects of the NATO's ISAF mission in Afghanistan seriously, not just reconstruction.

German troops bitterly report that GIs have taken to reinterpreting the mission's acronym to "I Saw Americans Fighting" to complain about the burden-sharing in the country.

"They've been under pretty sustained attacks on the part of the allies who have questioned the seriousness of the German commitment," said Daniel Korski a London-based analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Germany has 3,800 soldiers based in the relatively tranquil north of the country -- the number will rise to 4,400 ahead of a presidential election in August -- while US, British and Canadian troops are battling the Taliban in the south.

A total of 32 German soldiers have died in Afghanistan since their deployment in 2002.

US and British troops also frequently criticise the Germans' rules of engagement, which outlaw firing on militants if they are retreating and actively trying to snuff out the booming narcotics trade.

"The concern is that under the German approach, because there is too much concern about force protection, not enough is effectively being done," Korski said.

"Too much (enemy) activity in the area could ultimately reverse the progress that has been seen to this day. I wouldn't be surprised if the Germans wanted to address that."

Patrick Rahir/AFP/Expatica

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