German Supply Lines Flow With Beer in Afghanistan

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 15, 2008

BERLIN, Nov. 14 -- Germany has been reluctant to send its soldiers to Afghanistan. Not so its beer.

Last year, the German armed forces shipped more than 260,000 gallons of home-brewed suds to its troops serving in northern Afghanistan, as well as more than 18,000 gallons of wine. On a per-soldier basis, that was the equivalent of a ration of 26 ounces of beer a day, all year long.

The revelation, made Wednesday in a report to Parliament, caused a stir in the German press, already deeply skeptical of the country's commitment to the war in Afghanistan. About 3,500 troops are based there, but surveys show that a majority of the population is strongly opposed to the mission.

"Boozers in the Bundeswehr?" asked a headline in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, using the German term for the federal armed forces. "High Proof Assignment," chortled Die Welt, a national paper.

"Back home there will be a new debate," commented the Ostsee Zeitung. "The question, 'Are we at war in Afghanistan?' will be replaced by, 'Do I get too much alcohol as a soldier?' "

Government officials tried to put the issue in perspective. Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said German soldiers were limited to two cans of beer a day and were not supposed to drink while on duty.

Raabe also said the alcohol was available for purchase by soldiers, diplomats and police officers from other NATO countries operating in Afghanistan, though he didn't specify how often they dipped into the German supply chain.

Jens Ploetner, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said delegations of German officials visiting Afghanistan were also known to imbibe. "With traveling journalists, I have observed the same," he said, pointing the finger back at reporters.

Not everyone was convinced. "Alcohol obviously plays an alarming role in the Bundeswehr camps," Elke Hoff, a defense expert and legislator from the opposition Free Democratic Party, told Bild, a tabloid paper. "Does alcohol fill the void left by a lack of recreational activities? What are the officers doing?"

Alcohol is forbidden in Afghanistan for Muslims, but foreigners are allowed to buy it under certain conditions. The U.S. military prohibits its troops there from drinking.

Reinhold Robbe, a German legislator who serves as the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, said it was "careless" to assume that German soldiers are lushes based solely on the amount of alcohol shipped to Afghanistan.

But he did express concern that perhaps the troops were doing too much sitting around. The Defense Ministry, he suggested, ought to offer its troops "an alternative to beer drinking, such as sports and cultural activities."

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