German Chancellor Angela Merkel has, very sensibly not visited Afghanistan recently, but she was in Kabul in November shortly after the Bundestag renewed the mandate for 3,500 German troops in Afghanistan, combining two previous mandates.
Some 3,000 Bundeswehr troops are currently deployed in a strictly non-combat , training, reconstruction and security role in the relatively peaceful north under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) . There are also 6 German Tornado reconnaissance jets and their back-up units based in the country although it doesn't appear they get to bomb anything or anybody...yet.
But German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, swept through Kabul yesterday meeting President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak He also stopped for a chat with ISAF commander Dan McNeill.
NATO has formally asked for up to 250 German soldiers to take over from the Norwegian Quick Reaction Force, in N. Afghanistan and is due to end its mission at the beginning of the summer and all the signs are that a decision to ready German troops for combat (the first time since WWII) had already been made.
In an interview with Der Spiegel in September McNeill had politely danced around Germany's contribution to NATO forces..
"Some governments, and I'm not talking about Germany specifically, find it easier to accommodate their constituency if they impose certain caveats, certain restrictions, on the forces they contribute to this effort, such as that they can only be deployed in certain areas. These restrictions make things difficult for me as ISAF commander. "Ahead of the decision to beef up the Bundeswehr presence Mc Neill takes a hard headed approach to the international view of the Taliban and dscribes them in robust and bloodcurdling terms ..." These people kill more civilians than any force amongst the Alliance or the Afghan army. They are hard core extremists. They behead people that don't agree with their positions."
Which overlooks the massive aerial bombardment , and long distance shelling, by coalition / ISAF air forces which produces a long litany of missed targets, friendly fire, and disputed deaths, women, children, burnt out compounds, smashed mosques.
It is an impression that is very much at odds with the one presented by the President in his State of the Union message .." Afghanistan" , he described "a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda" as "a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope." (See also "he didn't mention the violence that has killed 147 students and teachers, and closed 590 schools in the last year." )
Having said that , he went of to sign a bill (H.R. 1585) prohibiting the Pentagon from selling leftover F-14 Tomcat fighter jet parts - the only country flying and buying F -14's - Iran. They ( and canny Chiese buyers) had been exploiting a loophole in military sales .. parts for Chinooks as well as Tomcats also found their way to Teheran, equipment bought in the heady days in the 70's when the Shah was the US's stooge.
This might of course add fuel to the argument that as Bush winds down the Presidency he has taken his eye off the ball... for example USAF ISAF air forces burn 575,000 gallons of fuel per day in Afghanistan (an F-16 Fighting Falcon, takes roughly 1,000 gallons of fuel per service) of which 80% comes from Pakistan refineries. Without this they have to rely on a a lengthy and precarious logistics line that extends more than 1,000 miles from northern Baku, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. e.g. From the 25th January 2008 Airpower Summary On Jan. 24, U.S. Air Force and RAF aerial refueling crews flew 42 sorties and off-loaded approximately 2.9 million pounds of fuel ( 1 US gallon = 6 lbs = 480,000 gals ) to 231 receiving aircraft.... and without the "close air support" the troops, be they German, British or US are fucked.