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Troop Deployment No Long Sparks Mass Protests In Germany


This week, German lawmakers will decide whether to extend their country's military mission in Afghanistan for another year. The vote is expected to pass without much opposition, which is significant, because for the past half-century Germany has been reluctant to deploy troops abroad because of its aggressive military history and because doing so has triggered public protests. German's long involvement in Afghanistan has been a turning point for the country's military. Even so, German politicians are still reluctant to appear hawkish. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more from Berlin.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: This story on the ZDF network shows German soldiers in a firefight with militants in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. The German defense ministry says 34 of its troops deployed to Afghanistan have been killed in combat as of 2011, the most current figures available. Here in Germany - like in the United States - people question the mission in Afghanistan. But the debate in Germany is no longer weighed down by its militarist history. These days, German politicians argue about the cost and benefits of intervention just like their American counterparts, not whether Germany has the moral right to send troops beyond its borders. Thomas de Maiziere is Germany's defense minister.

THOMAS DE MAIZIERE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says there are lessons the German government has learned in Afghanistan. One is to set realistic goals for military missions. Another is to make sure there's a reliable, local partner on the ground, especially in countries that are radically different than his own.

DE MAIZIERE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Equally important, the minister says, is to have a sound, political strategy accompanying the military one.

DE MAIZIERE: (Through Translator) We all think such operations in other countries are necessary, but they need to be thought through because military missions are lengthy, expensive and alone won't necessarily lead to success.

NELSON: Two weeks ago, a survey by the German military's Institute of Social Sciences found that only 38 percent of Germans back the Afghanistan mission, compared to 63 percent in 2008. Reached by phone, Edelgard Bulmahn is a Bundestag member with the SPD, Germany's main opposition party.

EDELGARD BULMAHN: It hasn't brought success if you think of, you know, establishing a democracy. Of course, it has brought some success in making sure that Afghanistan no longer is the haven for terrorists. So, there is only partly a success.

NELSON: Bulmahn add she will vote to keep German troops in Afghanistan and honor her country's commitment to its international allies. She and others are far more skittish about what role Germany should play in Mali. While some European and African leaders are calling for active military involvement, the German government wants to limit its role to logistical support. Many German officials who spoke publicly sounded as if they weren't willing to help at all, which angered many European and African officials. It's frustrating to German Defense Minister de Maiziere, as well. He's repeatedly called for a nationwide discussion of the German military's evolving role.

DE MAIZIERE: (Through Translator) There's a shyness about even using the word power. We'd rather speak of influence or negotiations. But our missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere have changed us. It's taking a little bit longer for us to get there because of our history.

NELSON: But the dialogue the minister wants is unlikely to happen this year. National elections are expected this fall and German analysts say most candidates - whether for or against greater a German military role abroad - believe they won't get any political benefit from talking about it. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.