David Betz at Kings of War has read the news that the German ISAF troops in Northern Afghanistan are miserable, beer-guzzling fatbodies:
They’re not too chubby and cheery to fight the Taliban; they’re not fighting as a matter of policy of the German government. This raises the question what they’re there for in the first place. Surely this is a question the troops ask themselves. In the absence of any answer from the German government small wonder they fill their time drinking.
Actually, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as their mission is more than clear: it’s not warfighting; it’s peacekeeping.
There are two ISAFs in Afghanistan. One is in combat; the other is, well, hanging out. In the South, it’s fear and death; in the North, beer and boredom. They may sport the NATO insignia, but for all practical purposes, the Germans, Swedes and Finns in their well-supplied camp-cities are running a classic UN blue beret operation with all the trimmings, including after-sauna refreshments.
This is not a fighting force, because it was never meant to be one, and consequently it lacks the training, the equipment, and most of all, the attitude to shoot and kill. Yet, they’re not hopeless. Put these guys in harm’s way, and they perform like pros. The Finns in Maimana, for example, were a tight-knit, highly motivated and disciplined bunch. With a group of Norwegians, they fought off a local mob against desperate odds in 2006; eventually, before they redeployed to MeS in 2007, they lost one of their own, a quiet and unassuming sergeant I once met, in an IED blast.
Most of these guys were reservists — cooks and ambulance drivers –, yet after the riot they became extremely redeployable, and as far as I know, some of them ended up serving in Chad and elsewhere. But the Lieutenant Colonel who commanded the defenders of the PRT base, a nice guy and a great soldier, has all but disappeared. Last I heard, he was on his way to a desk job in a supply depot somewhere in Central Finland. Clearly, the country couldn’t figure out what to do with its hero.
As Finland wraps up peacekeeping missions in places like Kosovo, it could easily quadruple its commitment to ISAF. Even those 400 troops would be a token force in the South; still, if there’s anything we’ve learnt from this war, it’s that symbolism matters. But the political will, of course, doesn’t exist. For reasons the Finnish government has never explained, it appears we would rather have soldiers growing a gut inside a garrison than doing what they’re trained to do.