German Lessons Learned

By John Liang / February 28, 2011 at 7:34 PM

A senior German military official penned an essay for the most recent issue of the National Defense University's Prism magazine, offering lessons learned from Germany's experiences as part of the NATO force patrolling Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Rainer Glatz, head of Bundeswehr Operations Command based in in Potsdam, writes that an effective counterinsurgency effort "requires comprehensive measures and adherence to fundamental guidelines advancing legitimacy and unity of effort, taking into account political factors, establishing rule of law, and isolating insurgents. NATO must strengthen its intelligence capacity, promote unity of effort, and prepare for a long-term commitment."

Here's an excerpt from the essay:

From today's perspective, the international community failed to develop the necessary benchmarks for the measurement of success when debating the endstate. Currently, we are trying to make up this default by defining benchmarks to evaluate the transition process.

The international community would perhaps have enjoyed greater success in Afghanistan had it ensured sufficient integration of the whole population and a better degree of institutional coordination and unity of effort together with a clear vision of what to achieve with increased effort on security at the start of the mission. To summarize my thoughts on the strategic-level lessons learned, I would like to ask some maybe provocative questions.

With regard to the start of the mission, was it right to exclude some Afghan key players in the Petersberg process? Would it not have been better if we had integrated the Taliban at the outset instead of starting today -- nearly 10 years later -- in the attempt to foster reconciliation at the strategic and the reintegration process at the tactical level?

If we agree that success in Afghanistan cannot rely on the use of military means only, then we have to ask: Was the Comprehensive Approach -- unity of effort -- really established in the early stages of the ISAF mission?

Talking about the availability of intelligence at the strategic level, we can see that there is a large amount of information available. Nevertheless, we failed to develop efficient mechanisms to exchange this information among the different organizations dealing with the Afghanistan challenge.

And finally, regarding the ongoing discussion about transition in Afghanistan, I would suggest that it is crucial to develop an endstate and benchmarks as soon as possible before proceeding to timelines for withdrawal.