Germany Is ISAF’s Weakest Link

by Joshua Foust on 9/6/2009 · 12 comments

The subtext to Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s dispatch from Kunduz (partially discussed already here) is the stupefying negligence of the German Army.

As Péter Marton puts it, “So German KSK SFs cannot shoot a known Taliban commander, responsible for a veritable carnage in New Baghlan back in 2007, when they have a clear shot at him, but it is alright for German troops to call in an F-15 to bomb stolen fuel tankers with lots of people around? This doesn’t make sense.” Indeed, it doesn’t. As Chandrasekaran reports:

Instead of sending troops to the scene for an assessment of casualties — as McChrystal’s directive requires — the Germans waited until morning to send an unmanned aircraft over the site to take photographs. The first German troops did not arrive at the scene until noon Friday. By then, all the bodies had been removed.

So not only did the German commander call in an air strike based on uncertain aerial surveillance and a single HUMINT source, he then couldn’t be bothered to go investigate the bombing site a few miles up the road for almost a day. The German commander also felt—wrongly, as it were—that to travel to either the site or the hospital where many survivors of the bombing were recovering was too dangerous.

This is not the first time the German posture in Kunduz has been astoundingly counterproductive. When an Alternative Livelihoods crew was struck by an IED in Badakhshan in 2005, killing two, the Germans refused for hours to send any help to the survivors. They were worried about being attacked while people bled out onto the road. It took hectoring from both UNAMA and the U.S. embassy (some of the victims were Americans) to get them to mount a laughably overwrought rescue mission.

As we reported in 2006, the German stance of “armed relief work”—and the extensive caveats against combat that result—has materially contributed to the appalling decline in security in the North. They do so little that tour-induced obesity has caused several German soldiers to gain so much weight sitting on their base that they are no longer considered fit for duty.

Despite that, last year the Germans had the temerity to complain about “battle fatigue.”

Germany’s near-criminal negligence in Afghanistan must come to an end (we didn’t even touch how badly they mucked up their modest police training mission). Either they need to man up and start behaving like a real army, or they need to get the hell out and let someone else do their job appropriately. Because right now, they have spent enough years making everything they touch worse off.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

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

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 12 comments }

Positroll September 7, 2009 at 9:14 am

Wow. There is so much wrong with this shit I dont’ really know where to start …

“So German KSK SFs cannot shoot a known Taliban commander, responsible for a veritable carnage in New Baghlan back in 2007, when they have a clear shot at him, but it is alright for German troops to call in an F-15 to bomb stolen fuel tankers with lots of people around? This doesn’t make sense. Indeed, it doesn’t.”
Um, ever read e.g. one of Michael Yons dispatches? Every second day he mentions US / UK snipers having known Taliban spotters in their sights but not being allowed to shoot at them because they don’t carry weapons. So the difference is rather one of degree I’d say …

“As we reported in 2006, the German stance of “armed relief work…”
Maybe you should get up to date – it ain’t 2006 any more …
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,637646,00.html

“we didn’t even touch how badly they mucked up their modest police training mission”
Yeah, they did – but US trained police isn’t any better …

“They do so little that tour-induced obesity has caused several German soldiers to gain so much weight sitting on their base that they are no longer considered fit for duty. ”
Oh please. A few weeks ago I could the same about some UK fobbits. So what?

There is lot’s to citisize. Stop hitting at strawmen …

Joshua Foust September 8, 2009 at 6:13 am

Big difference between an insurgent leader responsible for killing 80 people including elected officials and dozens of children, and a guy with a pair of binoculars sitting on a hilltop counting MRAPS.

Cornelius September 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I agree with the tenor of this piece – unfortunately neither of the things you suggest in the last paragraph will happen for at least the next six months: election season in Germany… Even after that things are unlikely to change, the problem with the Bundeswehr behaving the way it does is as old as its missions abroad post-1945. I remember the hilarious caveats that made everybody laugh at German soldiers when I was in Bosnia ’96-’99 and seriously hindered their efforts there, especially after they took over the Eastern Republika Srspka from the Americans in late ’99.

Iny case, unfortunately you slipped in the sentence about tour-induced obesity, which cannot be substantiated by the older post you linked, the Spiegel Online article you linked in that post, or the Bundestag report that was quoted there – which turns this piece into somewhat of a polemic. Too bad, your argument and your journalistic standards are usually much better.

Toryalay Shirzay September 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

The Germans do a lot of good things in Afghanistan such as constructing water distribution systems and delivering clean water. Those who were bombed were mostly Taliban and their supporters who would have to be tamed if Afghanistan is going to have peace.Lets not discourage the Germans;instead ,lets appreciate the good work they are doing and encourage them to contribute more.

Briandot September 8, 2009 at 1:01 am

I’ve been here for the better part of a year, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the Germans and the Italians are more of a liability than an asset to this effort. They *could* step up and improve — but I doubt they will.

ADC September 8, 2009 at 5:10 am

“They could step up and improve – but I doubt they will”: a very brilliant over simplification of a complex situation. Greater research would probably cure that.
So Germans and Italians don’t strap on the Kevlar and shot at anything that moves in their respective AORs. Well, that approach doesn’t seemed to have done wonders for the troop contributing nations in the South or the East. What is needed is a balance between the Anglo-Saxon and European approach. From MY TIME in theatre (where i worked with Italians, Germans, Americans and Brits) it seems that nations either exaggerate in one way or the other. Sure, the enemy must be engaged where possible but simply inflicting the highest body count will not win this fight (just ask the Russians) and what the europeans bring to the table does count. Investment, reconstruction, mentoring, peace keeping … they do all these things and more. Sure, they may not SEEK OUT the enemy as often as some other countries but that just won’t be enough. And it is quite funny that u should say that the europeans are the liability in AFG because … they say the same thing about certain english speaking nations. After events like those in Kundz … it’s hard to totally rebuke that. Generating “Collateral Damage” in the way we have in Kundz and Shindad before then just to kill a hand full of INS is like taking 1 step forward and 2 back.

Briandot September 8, 2009 at 7:08 am

My, aren’t we making assumptions, ADC? I’m not asking that they strap on more kit and shoot people (although being willing to at least risk themselves enough to go on rescue missions would be helpful). Even in non-kinetic operations they are useless.

Taking the Germans as the example, they refuse to do any PsyOps that are non-attributable. Unfortunately, the ISAF ‘brand’ has lost credibility; if whatever messaging ISAF puts out has that green ISAF dot on it or it’s followed by “brought to you by ISAF” it will often be dismissed by the local population. There are other nations (those pesky English-speaking ones, mostly) that are willing to work around that difficulty by engaging in non-attributable IO, but because the Germans have such a large hand in it, we’re somewhat constrained in what we can do.

From MY TIME in theater, primarily at ISAF HQ, I work with Americans, Brits, Germans, Dutch, and the occasional Italian when he can be pulled away from his drink. Even when limited to *non-kinetic* ops I would still agree with this post’s headline that Germany is ISAF’s weakest link.

ADC September 8, 2009 at 9:18 am

Before making heavy allegations such as denying assistance to people in harm’s way, which is a very big statement accusation, perhaps a check on the facts would be in order (as opposed to taking written word for gold). It would be wise to consider certain situations from various aspects. For instance, it wouldn’t be the first time that allied personal have gone wondering into another nation’s AOR without warning, gotten in to trouble and then expect the lead nation to drop everything and rush to the rescue no matter what else was going on at the time. Furthermore, having played a first-hand role in a similar situation, I have witnessed how the RUSH OF BLOOD approach to rescue ops has often lead to more fatalities and the need for a rescue team to get another rescue team out … some nations end up in this situation regularly … hint hint. Again, a balanced approach of INTELLIGENT RESPONSE (see the Australian model) wouldn’t be a bad idea.
As for the “constraints” in the IO field, last time I checked the “pesky English speaking” nations were still a part of Operation Enduring Freedom and so are still totally free to engage in their OWN independent IO campaign (as they often do) or even through CSTC-A (as I have personally seen, US and UK ARSIC COs have gone out on their own, as they are free to do by mandate, without coordinating or even informing their ISAF counterparts on their IO message and MO). So really, even if we were to limit the argument to merely IO, the US and UK are not limited by German hindrances.
As for the credibility of the “ISAF logo”, are u seriously implying that the “stars and stripes” or “the union jack” hold greater credibility with the AFG people? If so, then i suggest you get out of HQ a little and get amongst the people. It won’t take long to understand the sad reality. Credibility is a worsening problem for ALL coalition forces, especially for those that are characterize by predominately Kinetic Ops.
By the way, way to generalize with the Italian drinking comment. “He who is free of sin cast the first stone” … and trust me, no country is in a position to even launch a pebble, not even the US or the UK. As a matter of fact, the European nations don’t have any GENERAL ORDER No.1 equivalent because their forces don’t seem to require it. Again, HINT HINT.

Briandot September 9, 2009 at 12:58 am

“Before making heavy allegations such as denying assistance to people in harm’s way, which is a very big statement accusation, perhaps a check on the facts would be in order (as opposed to taking written word for gold).”

Done. And I stand by my statement. I heard a first hand account of at least one instance last night.

“last time I checked the ‘pesky English speaking’ nations were still a part of Operation Enduring Freedom…So really, even if we were to limit the argument to merely IO, the US and UK are not limited by German hindrances.”

Is this an argument for the way it *should* be? Last I checked, this was a coalition effort. What you’re saying seems like a tacit admission that the ISAF efforts are redundant and Germany’s contribution is worthless.

“As for the credibility of the “ISAF logo”, are u seriously implying that the “stars and stripes” or “the union jack” hold greater credibility with the AFG people?”

Hardly. You are making an incredible leap of logic and putting words in my mouth if you think that’s what I’m saying. I am arguing quite the opposite, in fact; that CF are not a source of legitimacy, and therefore non-attributable ops are necessary.

If so, then i suggest you get out of HQ a little and get amongst the people.

ADC, if you only knew. Keep making your assumptions — here, have a shovel; keep digging and let me know when you get to China. (or back to Afghanistan)

sebastian September 8, 2009 at 7:45 am

so germany doesn´t want to go to war anymore, which would mean going out on search&destroy missions. who can blame them, they have seen it all and are pretty fed up with it. on this basis the reason why they/we are there is because of the loyalty to the international coaliton and because of being able to contribute progress and development to afghanistan. So the german troops went there as army relief workers, which turned out to be an illusion. But isn´t it an honorable approch to a conflict by an modern army in the 21.century.
another reason why germany doesn´t evoke major battles, is because there is no point in it. it is common knowledge to society, which discusses the troop stationing there, that to throw a lot of man and material in battle doesn´t win anything there. this is fed by historical knowledge of afghanistan and the area and analyises of the traditions, the people and the asymetric war there.
the taliban people won´t vanish. it´s no standing army. and if you open a fight area they´ll always hit and run.
now that the illusion for germany of an relief working force is totaly gone, it finds himself in the dilema of loaylty to the international coalition and the part of the afghan people who appreciate the german development/recontruction projects and the feeling “we don´t really want our boys down there”.
concerning the airstrike (sept/09) with possible civilian casaulties; this is war and germany society feels pretty uncomfortable with it, now its time for germany to take the blame after criticising other nations several times for the use of force with civilian casaulties. this makes our dilema even worse and everybody is longing for a reasonable strategy to get our boys home without leaving afghanistan behind in a mess.

trashhauler September 8, 2009 at 6:13 pm

It seems that NATO has succeeded in one of its primary roles – it has destroyed Germany’s ability to wage war. If they can’t even patrol in a relatively quiet sector, they sure aren’t capable of invading Poland again.

sebastian September 9, 2009 at 1:39 am

yeah, imagine we would still be able to wage war, our mind wouldn´t circle arround afghanistan. we would wait for the moment to reclaim the 27% of our territory by mitlitary force which was lost due to stalin map planning. the winner writes histroy and wrote our history books.

Previous post:

Next post: