General Egon Ramms
Afghanistan / NATO / ISAF
May 15, 2008

Born in Westphalia in 1948, General Egon Ramms joined the Bundeswehr in 1968 as officer candidate and temporary career volunteer for 3 years, serving at first in the Unna-based Maintenance Battalion 470.

Achieving a degree in Mechanical Eng­ineering, and specializing in automotive and tank engineering, he served as Commander of Maintenance Company 70 and later ­commanded Mainten­ance Battalion 120 in Rheine. On returning to the Ministry of Defence he was responsible for army and air force armament and logistics. Appointed as the Chief of the Central Branch in the Army Staff of Ministry of Defence in 1994, he later took command of Logistic Brigade 1 before becoming Deputy Chief of Staff, Armed Forces Staff V, Logistics, Infrastructure, and Environmental Protection in the German Armed Forces.
General Ramms became the Director of Armed Forces Staff, Ministry of Defence in 2000 and was later assigned as Commander to the Multinational Corps Northeast.
Married, with two children, he has been the Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum since January 2007.

JFC HQ Brunssum, JFC HQ Naples and JHQ Lisbon are the three Joint Operational Headquarters in NATO. The primary operation that JFC Brunssum continues to have is leading the ISAF mission – the NATO-led, UN-mandated operation in Afghanistan that was established to assist the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) in maintaining security since August 2003. ISAF is NATO’s first out-of-area ­operations and is in line with NATO’s transformation to meet the new threats of the 21st century. General Egon Ramms of the German Army, has been the Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum since January 2007.

In February 2008, just before the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Prime Minister Harper announced that the Canadian government required NATO to bring additional combat forces into southern Afghanistan so that the Canadian Forces would continue its role in the battlefield and FrontLine correspondent Jürgen Rosenthal (below, left) spoke with General Ramms regarding such concerns.

At the NATO Summit in Bucharest weeks ago, the Alliance agreed to send around 2,000 extra troops to reinforce the 47,000 men already operating in Afghanistan. General Ramms, will the deploy­ment of the additional troops announced during the Bucharest Summit defeat the Taliban?

I welcome the Bucharest announcement of extra troops and equipment for Afghanistan. This will provide an additional increase to the capability of ISAF as we continue our campaign against the Taliban and other terrorists – in support of the increasingly capable Afghan National Army and in assistance of the Govern­ment of Afghanistan.

However, while the additional troops and equipment are very important, they are only a part of the solution. The support of the people of Afghanistan is the critical element in this campaign and it is vital that the democratically elected Government of Afghanistan wins their support and backing. This requires more than military defeat of the Taliban or other terrorists in a particular area. The population of that area must be persuaded that supporting the government and ISAF is a better option than supporting – or tolerating – the Taliban.

It is fundamentally important that the population associate positive development in their country with visible signs of governance. Accordingly, if an area is cleared of Taliban, it is critical that the government, aided by ISAF where appropriate, establishes permanent, effective security and effective, impartial local government institutions including Police and legal mechanisms.

ISAF will, of course, do everything possible to support this development.

France reaffirmed that 700 extra soldiers would be sent to reinforce the French contingent. Germany will not send supplementary forces to support the efforts of its allies. General, prior to the Bucharest summit, you know that Canada was pressing NATO allies for more troops to help out in the Canadian Area of Operations. Do you feel that the Bucharest pledges of additional troops will address Canadian concerns?

I would first like to record my personal appreciation for the professionalism and sacrifice of the men and women of the Canadian Armed forces involved in Afghanistan. They have performed ­magnificently in the particularly hostile and dangerous environment in Kandahar Province that comprises their Area of ­Operations.

In response to your question, the extra troops and equipment pledged at Bucharest will make a real difference to the NATO ISAF mission.

The additional resources will give Commander ISAF greater flexibility to react quickly to changes in the tactical situation and could possibly allow other forces to be redeployed from current duties to the Kandahar area for employment in support of units from Canada.

That is what I expect. But again, that is only one side of the coin. On the other side we have to increase the efforts in reconstruction and development. The Canadian PRT, with its composition drawn from different parts of the Canadian government, is doing a great job. As a result, they will soon have the possibility to broaden their activities in favour of the Afghan populace, based on enhanced security. That is the issue we have to look for and which is fulfilling NATO’s Comprehensive Approach – an idea which has been identified very early already by General Hillier, the ­Canadian Chief of Defence Staff.
General Ramms visiting President Karzai of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
General, as a German national and operational commander of the ISAF operation, what do you think of the German position regarding the NATO request for additional German combat troops?

As you can imagine, this is a highly political issue. You will know that Germany took the lead for Regional Command North when NATO gradually assumed responsibility for the whole of Afghanistan. This commitment is, to my understanding, planned to be continued with a slight increase in personnel as Germany has agreed to replace the current Norwegian Quick Reaction Force when it completes its current tour of duty. To my knowledge, taking over responsibility for Regional Command North in 2003 and providing 3000 or more soldiers in Afghanistan since 2002, was very well received by all NATO members.

Any further commitment today above the currently employed or foreseen 3500 soldiers would depend on the outcome of a discussion at the political level. And there I only would like to refer to a statement by the U.S. President prior to the most recent NATO Summit in Bucharest.

President Bush stated that any request for more forces should reflect the political realities in the troop contributing nations. This very much describes the ­situation we are confronted with now. I currently observe these discussions as a kind of ‘outsider’ while holding my ‘NATO’ assignment – thus deliberately not acting and arguing as a ‘German general officer.’ 

At what time do you expect the first deployments of these additional troops, especially to support Canadian forces in their area of responsibility?

I am not prepared to divulge operational details on troop deployments, however, I will tell you that troops will deploy to NATO and come under NATO command when their national authority deems they are ready to do so. However, your readers will be pleased to know that the American 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a potent combat force with aircraft, artillery and rotary wing support is already deployed in the South of Afghanistan and will be working with and in support of Canadian forces too. But, being open and frank, we have to look into that issue again in the autumn of this year.

At the NATO Summit in Bucharest, there are growing indications of a change in NATO’s strategy for Afghanistan to take a greater account in civil reconstruction measures – that those should go together with combat actions. What do you think of this possible development to help the Afghan government to bring peace to its people?

I am very happy that the Heads of State and Governments of the nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan have publicly articulated their vision for ISAF. One of the guiding principles identified is the need for a “comprehensive approach” by the international community, which brings together and coordinates the civil and military actors in Afghanistan. This is recognition of the fact that the problems of militancy, religious extremism and terrorism facing Afghanistan today can not be tackled by purely military means. The diverse causes underlying this unrest demand a strategy that addresses the inter-related and interdependent factors of social welfare, economic welfare, reconstruction and development, effective national and local government and, of course, security.

I know there are many international and non-governmental organizations active in Afghanistan. These organizations are all providing support to the Afghan government and the Afghan people. I am convinced that these efforts, together with the activities of the Afghan government, will bring benefit to the population. My Headquarters recently supported efforts of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, to facilitate coordination between these actors, nurturing a greater and improved focus.

The Afghan people must believe in and support their government and this belief and support will only develop if the people begin to see tangible benefits and improvements to their living conditions. Improvements in living and social welfare conditions through reconstruction and development will be crucially important in winning the support of the Afghan people, but these projects must be carefully planned, coordinated and executed as part of an integrated approach based on the pillars of the Afghan Compact and the Afghan National Development Strategy owned by the Afghan government that recognizes the interdependency between reconstruction and development, governance and security.

What consequences would a Canadian withdrawal from ISAF have for NATO?

Afghanistan is NATO’s top priority. It is a demanding and exacting mission that is making significant demands on all NATO members. The Canadian contribution to ISAF has come at great cost but it has been invaluable. I feel confident that Canada realizes the critical importance of their contribution to the Alliance and the ISAF mission for global security, and that Canada will remain engaged in Afghanistan with its NATO and non NATO allies. And I intend to do my very best to provide a perspective for that deployment of Canadian Forces by using all possibilities for an integrated approach in the whole of Afghanistan, so that we can discuss what is possible in regards to the duration of our employment.

How long do you think it will be before the ISAF mission is finished and countries can bring their ISAF soldiers home?

NATO is determined to help the people and the elected Government of Afghanistan build an enduring, stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state. At the Bucharest summit, The public declaration of ISAF’s strategic vision stated that the commitment was firm and long term. Rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and institutions of Afghanistan after 30 years of war is not a short-term project – it will require a protracted and concerted effort from the international community and it is vital that these efforts gain the trust and support of the Afghan people. The security operations being conducted by ISAF forces are a vital part of the process of rebuilding Afghanistan, providing the space to allow the development of indigenous Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), notably the Army and Police, who will increasingly take the lead in security matters. However, based on the strengthened capability of ANSF, ISAF and NATO must make necessary assessments where and when we see the possibility to hand over security and stability responsibilities to the ANSF. When that starts, we will be able to open talks about transition and develop concrete plans for that purpose. General McNeill, the outgoing COM ISAF in Afghanistan, talked recently about 2011. I believe that could prove a valuable date in starting this process.
Jürgen K.G. Rosenthal is a FrontLine Correspondent based in Germany.
© Frontline Defence 2008