60 Percent Want German Troops Out Of Afghanistan

For nearly eight years, Germany's mission in Afghanistan has been unpopular and controversial. German politicians don't seem to want to talk about it much. For the last three years, polls have consistently shown that two thirds of German voters oppose having troops there. Nearly 60 percent now say they want an immediate withdrawal.

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ERIC WESTERVELT: This is Eric Westervelt in Berlin. The debate in America over troop numbers has had little impact here. For nearly eight years, Germany's mission in Afghanistan has been unpopular and controversial, and it remains so. For the last three years, polls have consistently shown nearly two-thirds of German voters oppose having troops there. Nearly 60 percent today say they want an immediate withdrawal. Germany is a leading member of NATO, and Germans are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, but German politicians don't seem to want to talk about it much.

Even a controversial NATO air strike last month called in by a German officer that killed some 30 civilians along with Taliban militants near Kanduz had only a minor impact on the debate here. The leaders of the two top parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, almost never mentioned Afghanistan during the election campaign, speeches and rallies. When German politicians do talk about Afghanistan, they don't call it a war. They call it a peace mission, police work or a humanitarian operation. It's as if the politicians are trying to convince the public they've sent 4,200 social workers to Afghanistan, not soldiers. The attitude reflects continued unease and ambivalence about the role of the army in post-World War II Germany. One of the only parties to use the W words war and withdrawal are members of Die Linke, or the Left Party, founded by former East German communists and disillusioned Social Democrats. A main campaign slogan of theirs was "Out of Afghanistan now." Left party politician Gesine L�tzsch.

Ms. GESINE LOTZSCH (Politician, Die Linke): We have the experience of eight years in Afghanistan, and these eight years show us that we have to change the policies there. We want to withdraw the German army from Afghanistan because it's not possible to solve the problems with military means. And we want to support civil and democratic development without an army.

WESTERVELT: Despite the war's continued unpopularity, very few in Germany are embracing the Left Party's call to abandon the NATO mission. Even multiple videotaped threats by Islamist militants during the election warning of attacks if Germany didn't pull its troops out now had little effect on the debate.

For now, anyway, it's as if Germany has made up its mind on Afghanistan. It remains massively unpopular, but there are no plans to alter policy or reduce troop numbers. However, that might change now. Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel was reelected Sunday, and her former coalition partners, the Social Democrats, will now go into the opposition.

With the Greens and the Left Party, the Social Democrats will be under increasing pressure in the opposition to more vocally reflect the will of the 60 percent of the German electorate who think their country's role in the war in Afghanistan is a mistake.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

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