Georg Klein (and the Bundeswehr) on the Carpet

  • September 6, 2009
  • Abu Muqawama
  • Afghanistan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran has been allowed access into ISAF's investigation of what happened in Kunduz:

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.

 

Mirajuddin said he and his relatives found the bodies of only three of his cousins. He buried them that morning in the same grave, he said.

 

On Friday night, though, his story, and those of others in the area, were unknown to the fact-finding team. The Germans were still insisting that only insurgents were targeted. Even so, members of the team came to believe that there almost certainly had been civilian casualties....

 

At midday Saturday, after visiting the hospital and flying over the bombing site in a helicopter, the team met with two local officials. The NATO officers were expecting anger and calls for compensation. What they received was a totally unanticipated sort of criticism.

 

"I don't agree with the rumor that there were a lot of civilian casualties," said one key local official, who said he did not want to be named because he fears Taliban retribution. "Who goes out at 2 in the morning for fuel? These were bad people, and this was a good operation."

 

A few hours later, McChrystal arrived at the reconstruction team's base in Kunduz. A group of leaders from the area, including the chairman of the provincial council and the police chief, were there to meet him. So, too, were members of an investigative team dispatched by President Hamid Karzai.

 

McChrystal began expressing sympathy "for anyone who has been hurt or killed."

 

The council chairman, Ahmadullah Wardak, cut him off. He wanted to talk about the deteriorating security situation in Kunduz, where Taliban activity has increased significantly in recent months. NATO forces in the area, he told the fact-finding team before McChrystal arrived, need to be acting "more strongly" in the area.

 

His concern is shared by some officials at the NATO mission headquarters, who contend that German troops in Kunduz have not been confronting the rise in Taliban activity with enough ground patrols and comprehensive counterinsurgency tactics.

 

"If we do three more operations like was done the other night, stability will come to Kunduz," Wardak told McChrystal. "If people do not want to live in peace and harmony, that's not our fault."

 

McChrystal seemed to be caught off guard.

 

"We've been too nice to the thugs," Wardak continued.

 

As McChrystal drove to the bombing site -- defying German suggestions that the area was too dangerous -- one senior NATO official noted that the lack of opposition from local officials, despite relatively clear evidence that some civilians were killed, could help to de-escalate tensions.

 

"We got real lucky here," the official said.

A former commander in Afghanistan -- and one for whom I have all the time in the world -- wrote an email to me yesterday and identified what I also believe to be the most important issue here: the reluctance of some ISAF units -- especially, perhaps, but not only the Germans -- to conduct even the most basic patrolling and/or expose themselves to combat operations. Why, one has a right to ask, did the Germans not deploy a QRF or Ground Assault Convoy to recover the fuel trucks when they were stolen? Even after the trucks became stuck the Germans decided to instead engage with an F-15. And they wonder why or how civilians are killed? If you read between the lines in Rajiv's report, you'll note the way in which he highlights the Germans' reluctance to move outside the wire. (McChrystal eventually ignores the Germans and travels to the bomb site, which the Germans thought too dangerous to visit.)

The locals, you'll note, are angry -- but not angered by the civilian casualties. They're angry, instead, at ISAF for not taking a firmer hand against the insurgents. They're angry that the grandsons of what Max Hastings described this weekend as "probably the most formidable fighting force the world has seen" can't be bothered to conduct ground combat operations in an environment begging them to do so.

I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrated General McChrystal is right now. Frustrated with Col. Georg Klein, the commander who called in the air strike, and frustrated that the Germans cannot be relied upon to regain control of Kunduz and Baghlan Provinces when he so badly needs more ISAF units in the east and west that he surely cannot spare any for the north.