Echoes of Azizabad (Again)

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by Joshua Foust on 9/6/2009 · 3 comments

More details have emerged in the Kunduz Air Strike.

To the German commander, it seemed to be a fortuitous target: More than 100 Taliban insurgents were gathering around two hijacked fuel tankers that had become stuck in the mud near this small farming village.

The grainy live video transmitted from an American F-15E fighter jet circling overhead, which was projected on a screen in a German tactical operations center four miles north of here, showed numerous black dots around the trucks — each of them a thermal image of a human but without enough detail to confirm whether they were carrying weapons. An Afghan informant was on the phone with an intelligence officer at the center, however, insisting that everybody at the site was an insurgent, according to an account that German officers here provided to NATO officials.

Based largely on that informant’s assessment, the commander ordered a 500-pound, satellite-guided bomb to be dropped on each truck early Friday. The vehicles exploded in a fireball that lit up the night sky for miles, incinerating many of those standing nearby.

So based on some dude, they bombed a couple of fuel trucks, killing a lot of innocent people. Then took hours to say, “oh, umm, that was, like, a suicide bomber.” Now it turns out they really had no basis to call in air support at all.

There are normally tight controls in place to determine whether to call in an air strike or not. For a specific individual, the intel standards are actually very high—as they are for any pre-planned strike. But all controls, it seems, go out the window is someone yells “imminent danger.” Even if there isn’t any.

Just as at Azizabad, when we bombed the wrong compound based on bad HUMINT and sloppy follow up, it seems we were duped at Kunduz. The sad thing is, this has happened continuously since 2001, but we still don’t bother to check for it.

Meanwhile, other NATO troops are being accused of storming a hospital and detaining its staff. It, too, has disturbing echoes of the hospital raid in Paktika last month.

And, when these and other incidents start being pieced together, a very disappointing picture of sloppy planning and poor C2 emerges. Apparently no one is doing consequence planning, and it’s going to hurt us bad.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

BruceR September 6, 2009 at 5:31 pm

The first thing you probably should figure out about the Taliban is that they don’t gather in groups of 100 around highly explosive objects. Not in the South, and not in Kunduz. Baffling.

Toryalay Shirzay September 6, 2009 at 11:31 pm

The Taliban have infiltrated the population in such a way as to make difficult to distinguish between the locals and the Taliban supporters.The locals know who they are but are afraid to tell for fear of their lives.Thus the possibility is strong for those around the fuel tankers being mostly Taliban supporters and The ISAF and the Germans do not deserve to be blamed for an essentially a military operation against the Taliban.

Joshua Foust September 8, 2009 at 6:11 am

Except when they are in other cases (i.e. Farah, Shindand, etc.). That’s kind of a double standard.

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