The German defense minister has called Niger a strategic partner “in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and illegal migration.” Nearly 900 German troops are deployed in the Sahel region, including 40 in Niger.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday opened a new Bundeswehr camp in the Niger capital of Niamey.
“Niger, like Mali and the other countries of the Sahel region, is part of the European neighborhood, a neighborhood facing unending challenges,” von der Leyen said. Niger “is a valuable, reliable and determined partner in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and illegal migration in the region.”
During her visit, von der Leyen handed over 53 military transport vehicles to Niger Defense Minister Kalla Moutari as part of an “upgrade initiative” aimed at bolstering the country’s military capabilities.
Germany is also developing other defense-related projects in Niger, including building an officer training school and expanding the military section of the capital’s airport.
Niger forms part of the G5 Sahel group (G5S), a regional security initiative that includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania. The initiative was born out of regional instability triggered by an Islamist insurgency and coup in Mali in 2012.
Germany’s 40 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in Niger’s capital, Niamey, comprise part of the country’s contingent for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The deployment in Niamey mainly consists of troops from the air force and medical service. More than 13,000 peacekeepers have been deployed as part of the UN mission.
About 1,000 German soldiers are deployed for the mission, with some working on intelligence gathering and support in the region.
In March, Berlin signaled its intention to bolster its contingent in the peacekeeping mission and further support France’s counterterrorism force operating the region.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her French counterpart marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by unveiling a plaque at Rethondes. Leaders from 67 countries are set to join the weekend’s commemorations.
The leaders of Germany and France on Saturday made a pilgrimage to Rethondes, the Glade of the Armistice, the place where the document was signed a century ago to end World War I.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron took part in a memorial ceremony at the Compiegne forest, 90 kilometers (56 miles) northeast of Paris.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, an initial agreement to end four years of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts was signed by the Allies and Germany in a train carriage in a nearby forest clearing, from where the two leaders on Saturday held a symbolic repeat signing ceremony.
Merkel and Macron then watched as the French and German militaries held a joint march to remember the 1.4 million French and 2 million German soldiers killed in the 1914-1918 war.
Saturday’s meeting was the first since 1945 between French and German heads of state at the location where the armistice was signed.
War to end all wars’
The ‘Great War’ mobilized some 70 million military personnel as two European alliances fought a war that, at the time, wrought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.
Some 40 million people were killed or injured in World War I — as many as 11 million of them were military personnel.
Earlier on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the weekend’s solemn events with a visit to a cemetery in northern France containing the remains of 820 Canadian casualties from the 1914-1918 conflict.
Trudeau is one of 67 heads of state due to take part in the commemorations in France, which culminates with a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in central Paris on Sunday morning. Two minutes of silence will be held around the world to remember those killed and wounded.
US President Donald Trump failed to make his planned visit to a US war cemetery outside Paris on Saturday due to “logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” according to the White House. There was slight rain falling in the area.
Steinmeier in London
Further armistice commemorations are being held all over the world this weekend, including in London, where on Sunday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will become the first German head of state to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial.
Steinmeier will join Queen Elizabeth and British Prime Minister Theresa May at the solemn observance, which will be followed by a service at Westminster Abbey.
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, was due to visit US military cemeteries in northern France on Saturday and Sunday, where many of the 110,000 American dead out of 4 million US troops mobilized during World War I are buried.
Trump met Macron at the Elysee Palace earlier on Saturday, shortly after blasting his French counterpart’s plans to launch a European army as “very insulting.”
The pair later played down any differences over the new European defense plan, with Macron insisting it was in line with Trump’s repeated demands for European countries to pull their weight more in the Western military alliance NATO.
Serbia holds war games
Serbia, which is sometimes wrongly accused of starting World War I after a Serb nationalist assassinated the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914, was holding large military drills on Saturday to mark the armistice centenary.
Commenting on the drill that involved some 8,000 troops, Serbian strongman Aleksandar Vucic said he was “overjoyed” by the display. He also announced more state investment into the armed forces and more armored transporters supplied by its traditional ally, Russia.
“I am very happy – everyone has seen the ground trembling with MiGs flying above, and when those 250-kilo (551 lb) bombs hit, half the hill was shaking,” he told the Serbian national broadcaster.
The live-ammunition maneuvers, dubbed “The Century of Winners,” are widely seen as a show of force amid rising tensions with neighboring Kosovo.
Norway provides ample obstacles as the military alliance’s make-believe battleground for the Trident Juncture exercise. Still, Teri Schultz finds today’s high-tech capabilities require (warm) boots on the ground.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brags that he’s got hypersonic missiles invincible to NATO defenses; he’s building up his depot of tactical nuclear weapons on the alliance’s border in Kaliningrad, and he’s allegedly developed a ground-launched cruise missile that violates international arms control treaties. Add to that incessant cyberattacks that can possibly commandeer sophisticated Western weapons systems.
So why should 50,000 troops be trudging across the Norwegian tundra testing old-school tanks and blowing up bridges?
It’s all about the potential for hybrid surprises — from a traditional border incursion to a hijack of the highest-tech remotely-operated weapons system.
While there’s only one nation that can muster all these tactics near NATO territory, the alliance insists Trident Juncture is not about Russia. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared NATO’s defense arsenal must span the “full spectrum, from conventional weapons all the way up to nuclear weapons.” Ulrike Franke, a security and defense analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations agreed that NATO’s menu of battle options needs to include “all of the above.”
Franke, who specializes in drone warfare, warns that most NATO countries are not sufficiently prepared if the “next war” is indeed waged by cyber and other new technologies. But at the same time, she emphasized to DW, “I would also criticize NATO if now they would abandon all kind of conventional arms or conventional warfare and just focus on cyber or on autonomous weapons. That’s unfortunately the reality of today: We need to do everything.”
Visiting the exercises, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen cited NATO’s challenges as running the gamut from the crisis in Ukraine to the stabilization of Africa.
Technology boosts troops
French Lieutenant Colonel Herve Jure is stationed with NATO’s Allied Command Transformation headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the arm of the alliance tasked with advancing its technological capabilities. Speaking to DW at a demonstration of future warfighting techniques in Norway, Jure said the advantages of moving to more automation and remote operation include being able to reduce the number of people put in harm’s way, especially for simple logistical tasks, a lesson he said NATO learned in Afghanistan.
One example is using drones to deliver spare parts to troops stationed in difficult terrain. US Marine Sergeant Samuel Margarini said that out in the field, getting replacement for parts that break “in some cases take hundreds of days, even 300 days” if they are still in production at all. That time can be reduced to mere hours, Margarini said, using 3-D printers that could soon be a standard part of military equipment.
But on the other hand, Jure noted, relying too much on technology carries its own dangers. “All those capabilities have to be reversible,” he explained, and forces need to know how to fill in quickly, because the “systems can be jammed or destroyed or taken by someone else.”
Bundeswehr goes back to basics
On the base in Rena that German troops share with Belgian, Dutch, French and Latvian counterparts, Lieutenant Colonel Helge Lammerschmidt was overseeing amphibious capability training — getting tanks and other equipment across waterways — using techniques he acknowledged date from the Cold War but are still effective.
Lammerschmidt is candid about the Russia factor. “As a result of the Ukraine crisis [in 2014] we saw that it is more important to change back from stability operations to high-intensive warfare operations,” he told DW, noting renewed ambition to “move larger formations and heavy equipment, and this has not been trained and done within the last 10 years.”
The back-to-basics training even had German troops practicing how to use explosives to get rid of barbed wire, which can completely disable a tank, and to fell trees in an enemy’s path. Simple, but effective — and unhackable.
Norway a happy host
All these efforts are highly appreciated in Norway, which shares about 200 kilometers (120 miles) of land border with Russia as well as a maritime “delimitation” line extended across the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. Norwegian Army Colonel Eystein Kvarving said Norway had long thought NATO needed to refocus on territorial defense, and it was more than happy to provide that training ground.
“It feels reassuring,” Kvarving said. “It’s very nice to see that it actually works.” He noted that in recent years the US has prepositioned equipment in Norway and added a contingent of Marines. “I think that’s a sign of an alliance that’s there for you, should you need it,” he added. “And then let’s hope we never have to do that in real life.”
Nearly 50,000 troops are joining NATO war games in Norway to test alliance defenses against a “fictitious aggressor.” Germany is the second largest participant as it prepares to head NATO’s rapid response force.
NATO launched its biggest exercises since the end of the Cold War on Thursday in Norway.
The Trident Juncture war games involve around 50,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 250 aircraft and 65 ships from all 29 alliance members, plus Sweden and Finland. The maneuvers will take place for two weeks in Norway and the air and sea spaces around the country.
The goal of the exercises is to test and train NATO’s so-called Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and follow-on forces. The rapid reaction force is designed to spearhead a defense against an attack on an alliance member within days and is a component of the NATO Response Force.
The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force was established by the alliance in 2014 as a deterrent in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and Moscow’s support for separatists there.
Russia, which borders Norway, has been invited to monitor the war games but has issued a condemnation.
“NATO’s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the Cold War times,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday, adding that Trident Juncture is “simulating offensive military action.”
Russia regularly carries out war games of its own.
In Trident Juncture, alliance forces will test their readiness to restore sovereignty to Norway following an attack by a “fictitious aggressor.”
The German military is participating in the maneuvers with around 8,000 troops and 4,000 vehicles, as well as Tornado and Eurofighter jets and three ships. That makes it the second largest participant after the United States.
At the beginning of 2019, Germany will take over command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force for a year.
In the face of new challenges, Germany is recommitting itself to the Nato alliance. But what will playing a more central military role mean to a country that has often been accused of reluctance about its armed forces?
It was an unseasonably mild morning as the Sun rose slowly over the training range at Pabrade in Lithuania. This is effectively Nato’s eastern front. Belarus is just a few kilometres away, with Russia beyond.
Lurking just outside the perimeter wire loom several Leopard battle tanks of a German armoured battalion.
So what are the Germans doing here and what is the significance of this deployment for Berlin and for the Atlantic alliance as a whole?
Germany commands the Nato multinational battle group in Lithuania, intended to reassure a small ally in the face of a more assertive and aggressive Russia.
Other countries command similar formations in the two other Baltic states – Estonia and Latvia – and in Poland, the whole mission being known in Nato-speak as an “enhanced forward presence”.
Here in Lithuania, Germany is the so-called framework nation, providing the headquarters and a significant proportion of the troops. Other smaller Nato countries also provide troops for the German-led force.
Currently there are contributions from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands. The whole German battle group then forms part of a larger Lithuanian brigade.
What is Nato?
Nato stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
It is a political and military alliance of 29 countries, including the UK and the United States
It was formed in 1949
It aims to promote democratic values and for members to “consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues”
If necessary, it allows for the alliance to undertake collective military action
This deployment has both a practical and symbolic significance for Germany.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told me: “The Lithuanian people can rely on the German forces to protect them, to reassure them, to train with them.”
Lithuanians should feel absolutely certain, she said, that “if 1 sq cm of Nato territory is attacked, we will all stand together to defend it”.
That is the goal of the “enhanced forward presence” strategy in a nutshell. But Germany was not always so eager to put itself forward in military matters. Revulsion at the horrors of Germany’s Nazi past fostered a deep mistrust of militarism and the military.
But, to a large extent, attitudes have been changing. The German military was engaged in Nato’s Kosovo operation and played a significant role in Afghanistan. But it was Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its wider military intervention in eastern Ukraine that really began to shift German opinion.
Ms Leyen summed up the change like this: “Nowadays, having a large political relevance, being a certain economic power, we cannot shy away anymore. We have to say, because of our history, we have to get involved.”
Germany volunteered to be one of the framework nations for the enhanced forward presence plan. It commands one of the deployed battle groups, along with the UK, Canada, and the US.
But this is only a prelude to a larger Nato role. On 25 October, Nato’s major exercise Trident Juncture 18 kicks off in Norway.
This, the alliance’s biggest exercise since 2002, will be an opportunity for German forces in particular to show their capabilities before they assume the command of the Alliance’s Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force in 2019. For that year, German forces will be at the tip of Nato’s spear.
Trident Junction 18 in numbers
more than 40,000 participants
31 nations (all 29 Nato members, Finland and Sweden)
70 naval vessels
more than 10,000 vehicles
1.8 million meals, 4.6 million bottles of water, 660 tonnes of laundry
But does Germany have the military means at its disposal to fulfil the new roles it is taking on?
Over recent years, the German press has paraded a litany of stories about the inadequacies of Germany’s armed forces: submarines and aircraft that were not operational, shortages of personnel and spare parts and so on.
In the wake of the Cold War, Germany’s armed forces were essentially hollowed out and maintained at well below full strength.
With the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House this became not just a military problem but a diplomatic one too. He pressed all Nato allies to spend more. They ultimately agreed a defence spending goal for each country, that some 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all the goods and services it produces – should go on defence.
German spending was well below this figure and, given its economic strength, it came in for particular criticism from Washington.
Ms Leyen has battled to increase German defence spending, with some success. More money is going to the armed forces but there are still political differences within the ruling coalition as to exactly how much is needed.
Though Germany has adopted the new spending target, it is not going to get there any time soon. Even if Ms Leyen’s plans are realised, Germany will be spending only about 1.5 % of GDP on defence by 2024.
Nonetheless, the shift in Germany’s defence thinking is significant. It’s a measure of the twin shocks of Vladimir Putin’s assertiveness and Donald Trump’s apparent questioning of the utility of Nato and the whole liberal order of which it is a part.
Norway has apologized to women and their descendants ostracized after World War Two for coupling or having children with occupying German soldiers. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norwegian reprisals were “shameful.”
Solberg said the estimated 50,000 women labelled “German girls,” who had or were suspected of having intimate wartime relations with Nazi troops, ended up marked “for the rest of their lives.”
Seven decades later, most have since died. After Norway’s liberation in 1945, reprisals inflicted included job dismissals, detentions, expulsions and removal of nationality.
“For many, this was just teenage love, for some, the love of their lives,” said Solberg Wednesday, adding that their treatment breached the principle that no citizen should be punished outside the court system.
The prime minister delivered the government apology at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights.
Neutral Norway was occupied from April 1940 by more than 300,000 German soldiers.
SS chief Heinrich Himmler encouraged German troops to partner and breed with local women. It was part of Nazi Germany’s white supremacist agenda that also led to the establishment of a “Lebensborn” reproduction center in Norway in 1941.
In 2000, Norway formally apologized to the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 children who also suffered reprisals because they were the offspring of Norwegian mothers and German soldiers.
Many were placed in host families or special institutions and later battled for compensation.
Late but important
Reidar Gabler, the son of a Norwegian woman who was expelled in 1945 along with her German husband, told the Aftenposten newspaper that apology delivered by Solberg had come late but said it was” important for history.”
“The people directly affected are no longer with us… but this also touches their families and the children,” Gabler said.
Historian Guri Hjeltnes presented a study on Norway’s post-war treatment of various groups.
None of the 28 Norwegian men married to German women during the war were subsequently expelled or deprived of their nationality, she said.
“We cannot say women who had personal relations with German soldiers were helping the German war effort,” said Hjeltnes. “Their only crime was breaking the unwritten rules.”
Intelligence officials in Germany thwarted a 2016 attack that was planned by the “Islamic State” militant group. A couple who traveled to Syria was said to be trying to send teams of militants back to Germany.
Three teams of “Islamic State” (IS) terrorists were to have traveled to Germany in 2016 to prepare for and carry out a devastating attack — with the target possibly a music festival.
A man, Oguz G., and woman, Marcia M., who traveled to Syria in autumn 2015 to join IS were to have played a central role in the attack.
From IS’ then-de facto capital of Raqqa, Marcia M. — who was herself a convert to Islam — tried to recruit women in northern Germany to marry IS members so that they could be granted permission to enter Germany. However, one of the women who was contacted was an informant for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), who alerted authorities.
Details of the case emerged after an investigation by the German broadcasters ARD and WDR, as well as the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Zeit newspapers. The case was confirmed by the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
“We learned of the attack plan, so we were able to able to initiate criminal proceedings in October 2016,” Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank told ARD. “For us, the facts in the case were very concrete and also credible.”
In Kurdish custody
The plans were foiled both as a result of the investigation and the purging of IS from areas that it once occupied. Zeit reported that the couple handed themselves in to Kurdish authorities in October 2017. Since then, they have been held in detention in northern Syria.
There, reporters interviewed Oguz G., who is reported to come from the German city of Hildesheim, in the northern state of Lower Saxony. He claimed to have become embroiled in the attack plan accidentally and to have tried to get out of the situation once he found out about it.
The plot is thought to have been initiated by a high-ranking IS official with the combat name Abu Mussab al Almani, possibly referring to Swiss Islamist militant Thomas C., who died in fighting in Syria.
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