How are embassies closely guarded?
How the German crisis team works : Always on duty
"KABUL, dpa, May 31, 2017, 11:17 am - In an attack in the Afghan capital Kabul with dozens of dead people, employees of the German embassy were injured on Wednesday. An Afghan security worker (...) was killed. "
It is reports like this on Wednesday morning yesterday that alert the Foreign Office's crisis team. The decisive factor is not the fact that it was the embassy itself, which was massively damaged in the attack, but the endangerment of German citizens. Markus Potzel, who has been the head of the crisis team in the well-secured and strictly guarded “crisis cellar” of the Foreign Ministry since last summer, sums up the task in one clear sentence: “The top priority for us is the safety of German citizens. In the event of a crisis, we have to be prepared to act quickly around the world. "
Markus Potzel, born in 1965, knows the situation in the Afghan capital very well. He was the German ambassador in Kabul from August 2014 to August 2016, and during a conversation a few weeks ago he remembered exactly that time. "Anyone who has been to Kabul is crisis-hardened," he said at the time. “You learn how to deal with explosions, that's tangible diplomacy.” A decisive experience for him was the attack on the German consulate general in Mazar e Sharif a few months ago. “I knew the property, I knew the people affected,” he recalled when researching the Tagesspiegel series “Our man in / Our woman in ...”, which portrays German diplomats and their locations on the Agenda pages.
"A basic military understanding helps"
Markus Potzel has now processed the inner tension during his time in Kabul, he signaled. But: "It took me half a year to dim down (...), I was in the sink, so to speak." In Kabul you have a lot to do with the military, he described his work as an ambassador on site. "It helps if you have a basic understanding of the military."
And he really didn't care. After graduating from high school, Potzel served three years with the NVA to improve his chances of getting a place at university. From his father, who was a sports journalist and was therefore allowed to travel, he had inherited a longing for faraway places. Japanology, that was his dream. It became Iranian and English studies.
At the Humboldt University they were only three students in this orchid subject, which was by GDR standards. But it shaped his professional life, because after the fall of the Wall and a time as a freelance interpreter and translator, he joined the Foreign Service, was an economic advisor at the embassy in Tehran, previously responsible for culture in the representation in Singapore, then three as stressful as it was instructive years personal assistant to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, finally head of the Middle East department in the ministry. And then came Kabul. "I'm not a crisis junkie," he said almost imploringly, when asked about his suitability to head the crisis team, but: "Anyone who has ever been on a crisis post is basically suitable, and there is a comprehensive training program."
Crisis teams always work across departments and nations. In the basement of the Foreign Office, representatives from the Chancellery, Defense and Interior Ministry, the Department for Economic Cooperation, the BKA, the Federal Police and the BND are present. And in crisis situations you help each other. “In July 2016, for example, the Bundeswehr also flew members of other nations from South Sudan,” says Markus Potzel as an example.
In the event of a crisis, it can happen that the crisis officer is rang at night from sleep, you can read on the website of the Federal Foreign Office. That seems to be the rule rather than the exception. “That's why I moved to the city,” he says. Crises often come out of nowhere, especially in the case of natural disasters there is no advance warning. The earthquake in Italy, the tsunami in Southeast Asia - that's fate, says Potzel.
Negotiations with the Taliban
In areas of tension - and the Middle East, which Potzel is so familiar with, is one of them - one has to reckon with dramatic escalations at any time. Probably also in order not to lose the feeling for the political and social developments and upheavals, Markus Potzel visits the region again and again. He was four times in Baghdad, twice in the Kurdish city of Erbil, and of course in the Gulf region.
The Taliban generally strive for life, it is a common experience, also that negotiations hardly stand a chance. But there are terrorist attacks where things can be different. The case of the German sailor, who was released from the hands of his kidnappers by the crisis team in the Philippines, seemed to be one of those. But then he was kidnapped again - and this time murdered. "If the relief measures don't work, you are of course very depressed."
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