The decades-long deployment of German soldiers in Afghanistan is not associated with any other place name as much as with that of the city of Kunduz, even if the Bundeswehr mission began in 2002 in the Afghan capital Kabul and a few weeks ago with the withdrawal from the main base in Mazar-i -Sharif ended.

The highest hopes of German civil and military aid workers were once directed towards the development of Kunduz, and the region around Kundus also saw the worst fighting that soldiers of the Bundeswehr had to endure.

Johannes Leithäuser

Political correspondent in Berlin.

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It all started with a deceptive idyll: the German contingent set out for northern Afghanistan in autumn 2003.

A year earlier, the Bundestag had sent German soldiers to the country in the Hindu Kush for the first time.

In Berlin, the SPD and the Greens ruled under the leadership of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who wanted to fly the flag alongside the Americans after the attack by the Islamist al-Qaida terrorists - all the more because they were not ready to the then American President George W. Bush in his campaign against the Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, which began in the spring of 2003.

The deployment of Western soldiers under a UN mandate (ISAF), which NATO soon followed with its own mission, was the first and direct reaction to the attack by Islamist Al-Qaeda on America by means of hijacked planes on September 11, 2001.

The involvement of the Bundeswehr was combined with the idea that military security could go hand in hand with civil reconstruction and economic development in the poor country that was marked by decades of war.

In 2009 the picture of the mission in Germany changed

When ISAF and NATO adapted their deployment in this direction in 2003 and henceforth wanted to be present no longer only in the capital Kabul, but also in important provincial cities with regional development teams (PRT), Germany decided to engage in the north, in the Kunduz city. A stationing in Herat in western Afghanistan, which had also been considered, was - as the then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens stated in the Bundestag - rejected because the security situation in the northern province near the border with Tajikistan was considered more stable.

The German soldiers set up their first field camp in the middle of Kunduz, in the spacious estate of an Afghan businessman, the tables and benches of the field kitchen stood between well-tended rose beds. After six months, 250 German soldiers and around 400 employees from 70 aid organizations were deployed in Kunduz. While the Bundeswehr began to train units of the Afghan army, German police officers organized evening courses for the newly recruited Afghan police officers to teach them to read and write.

Five years later the situation had changed dramatically. Not only did suicide attacks and booby-traps pose an increasing threat, direct attacks by fighters of the Taliban militias also increased. The Bundeswehr had meanwhile assumed military security responsibility for the entire north of Afghanistan and relocated its headquarters to Mazar-i-Sharif; For security reasons, the field camp in Kunduz had been moved out of the city to a hill at the airfield and secured with stone walls.

An incident occurred near Kunduz in September 2009 that fundamentally changed the German public's image of the Afghanistan mission: on the orders of the German regional commander in chief, Colonel Georg Klein, American fighter planes bombed two tank trucks hijacked by the Taliban;

Around 100 people were killed in the resulting explosion. In addition to Taliban fighters, the victims were mostly Afghan civilians.

A gloomy prognosis that came true

The Bundeswehr's losses also increased. On Good Friday 2010, three German soldiers died and eight others were injured during the worst attack by the Taliban to date on the forces of the Bundeswehr. After this “Good Friday battle”, the assessment of the character of the German mission changed; The then Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg now said that he “understands everyone who speaks of war”. Just a few weeks later, another four German soldiers fell on their patrol during a Taliban attack, and five more were injured.

In the years that followed, the Western military mission increased the scope and pace of the training of the Afghan security forces and began planning to reduce its own presence. At the beginning of 2014, the NATO mission was rededicated into a pure training mission. The Bundeswehr left its camp in Kunduz, where up to 900 German soldiers had been stationed in the meantime, and withdrew its forces to Mazar-i-Sharif. Even then, at the end of 2013, the then mayor of the city made gloomy predictions about what would happen now: The withdrawal was coming too early, the schools, hospitals and streets that were built with Western help are threatened with destruction.

The prophecies came true. In the spring of 2015, the Taliban began a first siege of the city; in the autumn they managed to temporarily conquer Kunduz by means of a surprise attack. German military advisors returned to Camp Pamir above the city to give the Afghan armed forces advice and advice on the counter-offensive. Even after the city was recaptured, they remained present in varying degrees. At the end of November 2020, the Bundeswehr finally left Kunduz after the American President Donald Trump drastically reduced the size of the American troops in the country. Now the Taliban are back.