The British papers are having a field day with a German parliamentary report’s finding that Bundeswehr forces in Afghanistan are fat and drunk. 

The Telegraph headlines its take “German soldiers too fat to fight the Taliban.”

A report by Germany’s Parliament found forces in Afghanistan got through more than 1.7 million pints of beer and 92,000 bottles of wine last year. They are already on track to top those figures this year, with 901,000 pints of beer and 56,000 bottles of wine being shipped in the first six months. US forces are not allowed to drink, while British soldiers are allowed only small quantities while off-duty.  Earlier this year, another report found that 40 per cent Germany’s 3,600 soldiers in Afghanistan were overweight.

This has prompted Reinhold Robbe, Parliamentary Commissioner for the armed forces, to observe: “Plainly put, the soldiers are too fat, exercise too little and take little care of their diet.”  There was also a stinging assessment given by the head of Germany’s crack commando squad, the KSK. In a frank outburst, General Hans-Christoph Ammon, whose soldiers are fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban, said the scheme to train Afghan police – for which Germany is responsible – had been “a miserable failure”.

He said the German Government had put just 12 million towards training the Afghan Army and police. “At that rate, it would take 82 years to have a properly trained police force,” he told Deutsche Press Agency.

The Daily Mail is less kind, weighing in with “German soldiers are ‘too fat to fight’ Taliban because they drink so much (while our boys go dry).”

The statistics only add to the embarrassment of the country’s federal army, Bundeswehr, after a report earlier this year found troops to be too fat, smoked too much and didn’t exercise enough.  It showed they lived on beer and sausages while shunning fruit and vegetables. The parliamentary report claimed that some 40 per cent of all German army personnel are overweight – a higher percentage than in the civilian population.

The English language versions of Der Speigel and Deutsche Welle are silent on the matter.   Of course, the first part of the report, that the soldiers are too fat, came out in March; the only new news is the business about beer consumption.

While it’s been quite some time since I last wore a uniform, I can attest that the 0.77 liter daily average beer consumpton — or even the full liter per day that the soldiers are authorized — would not have been considered inordinate.  Or, at least, not inordinately high.   And we adhered to rigorous physical training and weight monitoring standards, with expulsion from the Army mandatory for those not meeting standards. To the extent that Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan are out of shape, then, it’s a function of lack of PT rather than having a couple pints of beer. 

Nor, as some commenters have suggested, is the problem that Germany has a conscript force.  Draftees serve nine month stints, barely long enough to get acclimated to the service,and the ISAF mission consists entirely of volunteers and professionals.

Perhaps the soldiers, hamstrung by government-imposed “caveats” that make it very hard for them to do the job they came to Afghanistan to do, simply aren’t motivated to stay in shape? Contrary to conventional wisdom, professional soldiers are eager to perform the mission for which they’re trained.  Study after study of American forces, for example, find that morale is significantly higher among soldiers in units which have deployed to combat zones than their non-deployed counterparts.  Ditto retention rates.

German soldiers are German. They’re not going to give up beer and sausages.  Given half a chance, though, they’ll be an elite military force.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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