German Bundeswehr Redeployment from Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan | 30-Jul-13 | Author: Mario Ohle

The current ISAF mission in Afghanistan constitutes the Bundeswehrs largest foreign deployment in its history. Even now that the mission is nearing its ending date (scheduled for end of 2014), more than four thousand service men and women are still stationed along the Hindu Kush Mountains. This deployment would not have been possible without a fundamental overhaul of the German armed forces a fact that became clear to us in Afghanistan. Originally conceived as a continental defensive bulwark, the Bundeswehr today is configured as a rapid-intervention force within a trans-national geostrategic framework. The ISAF mandate is being carried out by the Bundeswehr in cooperation with 46 other countries. Taken together, these countries still have roughly 70,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Of these, 4,700 are Bundeswehr military personnel mostly men but also a growing number of women.

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German Bundeswehr LtCol in reserve Dr. Mario Ohle, member the Afghanistan Team and International Advisory Board of the World Security Network, here in Camp Marmal in the North of Afghanistan: "By the end of 2014, the German Bundeswehr withdrawal from Afghanistan is to be completed. The objective is to leave behind a zero footprint in terms of materiel. Follow-up missions (ongoing training of police or explosives-disposal units) will have their own organizational structure and will be performed independently of the ISAF contingent redeployment. The withdrawal must proceed in such a way as to ensure that the contingents still in the field retain the military readiness to protect people and equipment, even while their materiel is being continually drawn down, whether through environmentally friendly destruction, disassembly, sale, or home transport via air, land, or sea."

In the future as well, the reformed (and decimated) Bundeswehr will be expected to prove its ability to respond rapidly, to nation build and to stay the course, while deploying roughly 10,000 soldiers in two crisis theaters simultaneously. 6,000 of these soldiers would respond to situations of acute threat, while the remaining 4,000 would secure territories already pacified. These 10,000 soldiers, who serve to project direct military in these theaters, are backed up by an immense logistical apparatus with respect to mobilization/demobilization and supply/maintenance. Depending on the type of troops involved, each soldier actively deployed requires the support of up to eight soldiers.

Pulling back to the start line

The Afghanistan experience also shows that the Bundeswehrs success can also be measured by its ability to pull back in a responsible fashion once its mission is accomplished. Countries that have been pacified as Afghanistan has will have to learn to stand on their own two feet in every respect also when it comes to guaranteeing the safety and security of their own population. For this to happen, a territory pacified by the Bundeswehr and its allies must first be vacated. Permanent deployments must be the exception, not the rule, for the Wests military alliances. Militarily speaking, it is a truism that redeploying troops is every bit as challenging as building up a strong military position in the first place. This is particularly evident in cases where the ending date of a mission has been determined on the basis of political considerations a familiar situation.

By the end of 2014, the Bundeswehrs withdrawal from Afghanistan is to be completed. The objective is to leave behind a zero footprint in terms of materiel. Follow-up missions (ongoing training of police or explosives-disposal units) will have their own organizational structure and will be performed independently of the ISAF contingent redeployment. The withdrawal must proceed in such a way as to ensure that the contingents still in the field retain the military readiness to protect people and equipment, even while their materiel is being continually drawn down, whether through environmentally friendly destruction, disassembly, sale, or home transport via air, land, or sea (the last being the second phase once land-locked Afghanistan has been left behind). In the end, however, there is no getting around a concerted withdrawal maneuver to remove the final vestiges of a military presence.

Logistically speaking, redeployment is a massive undertaking. Merely in mathematical terms, containers would have to leave Afghanistan at a rate of one every seven minutes between now and the end of 2014 in order to retrieve in a timely manner all the materiel that has accumulated in the field! Mathematical brain-teasers aside, the pull-out will proceed via two main routes: either directly by air or by a combination of sea and air via the port of Trabzon on Turkeys Black Sea coast. This site, on the territory of one of Germanys Nato allies, is where the Bundeswehr began setting its main redeployment hub as early as spring 2013. Alone for reasons of cost, direct air transport back to Germany will be reserved for highly sensitive equipment (especially ammunition). Germanys operations in Trabzon are governed by a bilateral treaty with Turkey. Notable in this context: Bundeswehr personnel are not allowed to wear uniforms in Trabzon, performing their duties in the traditional blue overalls worn by German craftspeople.

Yet the redeployment by no means begins in Trabzon. The main field depot of the German armed forces Camp Marmal near Mazar e Sharif has been set up with a materials-processing area (lock) in which equipment is readied for home transport.Once inside such an area, the equipment undergoes a painstaking technical inspection so that any defective or missing parts can be recorded. The Bundesrechnungshof (German Federal Court of Auditors) is the last party involved, auditing the costs also of Germanys military operations.

Shortly before outbound transport from Afghanistan, all goods are decontaminated with diluted formic acid, so as to prevent harmful organisms (especially insects) from tagging along for the ride. Its an almost unparalleled effort, but one that cannot dispensed with. For Afghanistans fauna harbors insects which thanks to their resilience alone could develop into a veritable plague in Central Europe!

New thinking required

This amount of effort involved is probably also one of the reasons why the Bundeswehrs logistical specialists are increasingly calling upon Germanys industry to provide more support for such operations. The image of an onion is often used in this context: the core of the onion represents the purely military capabilities of the individual soldier-at-arms and his/her support personnel. Ideally, only these activities at the core of the onion should have to be directly handled by soldiers. The further a given task is from the core, the lower the willingness to have it performed by military personnel.

Why should the Bundeswehr be expected to make its soldiers provide logistical and transport services, for example? To put it into the language of business, the Bundeswehr is being confronted with the question of how much vertical integration it should be striving for, and it urgently needs to address it. After all, outsourcing is an option even for military operations. And Germany is certainly not lacking in companies that could provide military support services in a cost-effective and professional manner.

On the other hand, the buildup and build-down of the military position in Afghanistan also shows that German companies are highly reluctant to deploy their personnel and equipment in crisis-ridden regions. Reservations concerning insurance and labor-law ramifications as well as a lack of day-to day experience in this area continue to stand in the way of a smooth partnership. At present, Germany has yet to see the development of an adequate military support industry such as the one taken for granted in the United States (e.g. the Supreme Group or Blackwater). Companies such as Dsseldorf-based Ecolog practically occupy a monopoly position in this regard. On the other hand, the Afghan redeployment project has provided food for thought. Thus, the Bundeswehr and the business sector have already set up the first joint committees to discuss how best to divide up the proverbial onion. Since one can be sure that the Afghanistan mission will not be the last of its kind, this discussion is certainly worthwhile. The outcome remains to be seen.

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