Berlin turns to blame game amid Afghanistan chaos

BERLIN — As Germany’s military struggled to ferry the country’s remaining nationals and local staff out of Kabul on Tuesday, Berlin devolved into a war of words over who to blame for what all agreed was an unmitigated fiasco. 

A German air force transport plane departed the Afghan capital early Tuesday with just seven passengers, as more than 100 additional evacuees failed to reach the airfield due to gunfire and what the foreign office described as “chaotic” conditions around the city’s airport. 

The German government dispatched several planes to the region Monday to create an “air bridge” to evacuate Germans to neighboring Uzbekistan. But the first plane nearly ran out of fuel after circling Kabul for hours waiting for clearance from U.S. forces to land. The pilots ultimately had to divert to Tashkent to refuel before heading back. 

“We’re dealing with a very murky, dangerous and complex situation at the airport, especially with the masses of people,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told German public television Tuesday morning. 

German opposition parties accused Kramp-Karrenbauer and other members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet of poor planning. It should have been clear that Afghanistan would no longer be safe for westerners and those who assisted them once NATO troops pulled out, Annalena Baerbock, the Green party leader and candidate for chancellor, said in a television interview Monday evening. 

“What really upsets me is that you could see it coming,” she said, noting that in June Merkel’s coalition rejected a Green motion in parliament to ease the evacuation of local staff in Afghanistan to Germany. Similar motions by the Free Democrats and the Left party were also voted down. 

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who in June rejected suggestions that the Taliban was poised to seize control of Afghanistan, faced calls to resign. Maas’ ministry was charged with analyzing when and whether to evacuate local staff. Speaking in parliament in June, Maas said he continued to believe that the peace process between the Taliban and Afghan government had a chance to succeed. 

On Monday, Maas, a Social Democrat, said: “We all misread the situation.” 

In a closed-door meeting with her party’s leadership on Monday, Merkel also acknowledged that the government had misjudged the situation and now had limited capacity to respond to events on the ground. Germany could only carry out the evacuation of its people with American help, she said, according to German media reports.

The admission drew a sharp rebuke from German commentators. 

“The disaster in Afghanistan is also Merkel’s disaster,” Der Spiegel concluded. “The dramatic, chaotic pictures out of Afghanistan will remain connected to her, as a disgraceful end to her time in office.” 

Meanwhile, Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate running to succeed Merkel, sought to distance himself from the government, calling for an “unsparing investigation” into why diplomats and intelligence officials failed to accurately assess what was happening in Afghanistan. 

Though the crisis has landed in the middle of Germany’s general election campaign, it’s unclear what influence it will have or if opposition parties will benefit from the ruling parties’ missteps. 

That will likely depend on the success or failure of the government’s ongoing evacuation effort. 

Antonia Zimmermann contributed reporting.



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