Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.
The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,” followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna- Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!”
The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round Nato mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”
So nothing better reflects that the Germans are now in a real war for the first time since 1945 than the release of new rules of engagement this week, giving their forces more freedom to shoot back and shout warnings later.