The German pocket guide to fighting in Afghanistan


Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.

The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,” followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna- Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!

The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round Nato mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”

So nothing better reflects that the Germans are now in a real war for the first time since 1945 than the release of new rules of engagement this week, giving their forces more freedom to shoot back and shout warnings later.


German politicians, aware of an approaching general election that could give voice to pacificist sentiment, are still avoiding the K-word — Krieg (war) — and no modern German government can expect to be re-elected on a war platform. The reality looks a lot like war, and the new rules of engagement adapt to it. The seven-page booklet has been trimmed down to four pages and soldiers are not as hamstrung by regulations.

Up until last week it was, for example, forbidden to shoot a fleeing assailant, even though every civilian policeman in Germany has the right to shoot an armed fugitive in the arm or leg after barking a short warning.

The new guidelines say that soldiers can shoot to prevent an attack, allowing them to kill a rebel escaping from the battlefield. Much of the phrasing is nuanced but gives more room for soldiers to defend themselves. One section authorised defensive measures only if soldiers were under imminent threat; now they can open fire if “an assault is in preparation”. Changing a few words gives the Germans a few hundred more meters to react.


Before the change of manual they were probably killing the Taliban with laughter. I think we over did it in changing the German mind set after World War II.


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