- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Even before the new president takes office in January, relations with one of the United States‘ major allies is coming into question. President-elect Barack Obama during his campaign asked our European allies to increase their commitment of troops to Afghanistan and to lift the restrictions on their deployments that are hampering NATO cooperation on the ground. This request has not been terribly popular in Germany.

And now, a new wrinkle has been added to the U.S.-German relationship. An American serviceman who went absent without leave a year and a half ago has asked the German government for asylum. With 60,000 U.S. troops still based in Germany, the case is a potential bombshell. If the German courts do decide to grant the request of Andre Shepardwho served on a forward operating base near Tikrit in Iraq from September 2004 to February 2005 servicing Apache helicopters, before being transferred to Germany, it could open floodgates.

In Europe, where the Iraq war has always been highly unpopular, the case is being covered extensively by the media. Though not engaged in combat, “I’ve done enough research to come to the conclusion that what is happening in Iraq is not the equivalent of World War II but outright massacre,” Mr. Shepherd told the Financial Times. “We are not the freedom fighters we think we are.” This conclusion led him to go underground and live illegally with friends, supporting himself doing construction work and other illegal odd jobs.

How the courts of an ally of the United States could possibly find a deserter worthy of consideration for asylum is stunning. Yet Mr. Shepard’s lawyer seems to think that he has a case, according to the Geneva Conventions and according to German law growing out of the Nuremberg trials.

At the trials of the Nazi leadership, the principle was established that soldiers should disobey orders they consider illegal. A German court in 2005 outrageously found the war in Iraq to be unlawful, despite Iraq’s numerous violated U.N. resolutions, which formed the base of the U.S. case for invasion.

The Shepard case, however, is only one reflection of Germany today, a nation largely of pacifists. A report released to the German Parliament on the state of the health of German soldiers in Afghanistan has caused a great deal of consternation at home and some mirth, it must be said, in the British press. As the headline in the London Times put it: “German soldiers deemed ‘too fat to fight.’ ”

According to the official report, the 3,600 German troops in northern Afghanistan drink too much and eat too many sausages. Apparently, in 2007 German forces in Afghanistan consumed about 1.7 million pints of beer and 90,000 bottles of wine. This number is not declining either. During the first six months of this year 896,000 pints of beer were shipped to German forces in Afghanistan. (By contrast, British and U.S. bases in Afghanistan are dry. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the Berlin airlift, when British and American pilots had to carry wine for the French zone in Berlin, which needless to say they rather resented.)

It was already known that the physical condition of the German soldiers was a problem. A report by the German armed forces published in March found that 40 percent of its soldiers aged 18-29 were overweight, with 10 percent being clinically obese. A stunning 70 percent of the German soldiers were found to smoke.

The German Bundeswehr gets little exercise, one reason being the controversial limitations placed on their deployment by the German government, which has also banned any reference in press statements to “Krieg,” war.

Germans currently stationed in Afghanistan are not allowed to participate in any military action that would place them in harm’s way; German Tornado aircraft are limited to unarmed reconnaissance; and German Medevac helicopters are not allowed out at night. And while the Germans are meant to be training Afghan police, according to allegations from Gen. Hans-Christoph Ammon, the commander of the special commando unit, the KSK, these efforts are “a miserable failure.”

Before World War II, the German military believed that their superfit soldiers, who started military training as Hitler Youth, were greatly superior to Allied soldiers (an illusion, as it turned out). The contrast with today’s chubby, beer-drinking German military is striking. In the greater scheme of things, of course, this may not be altogether so bad.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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