Bundestag committee on the Afghanistan withdrawal: misjudged the situation

The Afghanistan investigative committee questions the first witnesses and is annoyed with the BND. The secret service does not deliver its documents.

People board a military aircraft

Last evacuation flights from Kabul on August 20, 2021 Photo: US Marine Corps/Reuters

BERLIN taz | The Bundestag investigative committee on Afghanistan is starting the hot phase of its work with displeasure: On the fringes of the first witness interviews, members of the committee expressed their anger at the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) on Thursday. It is about e-mails and other documents on the Afghanistan mission that the MPs have requested from the secret service but have not yet received.

It is "important that we have comprehensive documentation," said Greens chairman Robin Wagener. According to him, cooperation with the foreign and defense ministries is working well. But it is "in fact still with the documents of the BND".

The secret service came under criticism immediately after the fall of Kabul in the summer of 2021 because it had not foreseen the rapid collapse of the Afghan state. That is why he is now also the focus of the U-Committee: The committee is looking at the last year and a half of the German presence in Afghanistan. According to the commissioned investigation, he should clarify “how the situation assessments and decisions made by representatives of federal authorities” in connection with the German withdrawal came about.

In detail, it is about, among other things, why German nationals and Afghan local forces were not evacuated in time and why the grand coalition, despite the serious security situation, had long held on to deportations to Afghanistan.

Look at the beginning of the end

According to committee chairman Ralf Stegner (SPD), parliament should be able to discuss the U-committee's final report at the latest "half a year before the next Bundestag elections". The committee has around two years to question witnesses and view evidence. The workload of the deputies is high: Stegner spoke of "hundreds of thousands of emails and much more" through which the committee has to fight.

The first witness questioning on Thursday revolved around the political and military situation around the time of the Doha Agreement. In it, the US government under Donald Trump and the Taliban agreed in February 2020 to withdraw Western troops – without involving the Afghan or other governments. The agreement is seen as the beginning of the end and also marks the beginning of the specified investigation period.

In their testimonies, the witnesses called in – mostly experts from science – criticized the German deportation policy, among other things. Due to the "intensity of the violence" in 2020 it "certainly was not justified" to consider further deportations, said the conflict researcher Katja Mielke. Her colleague Conrad Schetter called it incomprehensible how the Federal Foreign Office "came to the conclusion that there are safe regions of origin in Afghanistan" in its asylum situation report.

However, the statements of the experts did not only relate to February 2020. The journalist Sandra Petersmann, former Afghanistan correspondent for ARD, criticized that the German view from 2001 was initially too focused on the “Bubble Kabul”. In addition, the West chose the wrong local partners, including "human rights abusers".

The start of the U-Committee thus overlapped thematically with the task of a second Bundestag committee: A commission of inquiry, which also started work this week, evaluates the entire 20 years of German Afghanistan policy.

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