Monday, September 07, 2009

What the Kunduz tankers tell us

Here is a quick summary of what happened this weekend.
Taliban militants stole two fuel tankers late Friday that became stuck on a riverbed outside Kunduz. Villagers - either forced by the militants or enticed by offers of free fuel - gathered near the trucks, even as U.S. jets patrolled overhead.

German commanders watching images from the U.S. aircraft could see about 120 people, McChrystal said Saturday. The commanders decided that the people were militants and ordered the airstrikes, Smith said, even though images provided by the U.S. aircraft would have been grainy and difficult to see.

Whether the German commanders or the U.S. pilot are at fault for any civilian casualties may turn into an inner-NATO tussle.

Smith said the ground force commander "is the decision maker for close air support. That's doctrine." But he also conceded that a pilot can refuse an order to drop a bomb.

Klein, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, declined to say whether images provided by the U.S. jets had been clear enough for weapons to be seen among Afghans on the ground, citing the ongoing investigation.

A German Joint Terminal Air Controller, or JTAC, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said the rules for ordering an attack clearly state that the ultimate decision rests with the ground commander.

But rules also require that both the pilot and the JTAC get a good positive identification of the target before the commander can order a weapon deployed, the JTAC said.

"Only when both are sure that what we see is a target, only then will the pilot drop the bomb," the JTAC said.

The German Defense Ministry, meanwhile, pushed back against a story published in the Washington Post that German officials said painted their commander in a poor light and played up the U.S. version of events. The ministry said the article "will definitely influence at least the preliminary investigation by the various bodies."

"The Defense Ministry is very surprised about the unusual procedure of using a journalist as a source to reveal initial investigation results," the ministry said.

Kris Coratti, director of communications for the Washington Post, said in an e-mail: "The story speaks for itself."

Smith said a trip to Kunduz by military officials from Kabul was not an official investigation but a fact-finding trip.

"And I think it's much, much better for people to understand the facts," he said of the decision to allow a journalist to witness the discussion among military officials.

No NATO officials will yet say how many civilians they think may have died. Smith on Saturday said the preliminary overall death toll was believed to be 56. Afghan officials say it's in the low 70s.

Smith said he hopes a U.S.-German rift does not develop over the strike. "I hope everyone allows the investigation to proceed and we'll determine what we know more precisely and move on from there," Smith said.
What happened next sheds some light on the challenges in AFG working with our allies.

Gen. McChrystal, Commander of both USA and NATO forces in AFG, visited the site of the strike that took place in the north of AFG that is the responsiblity of the Germans (it is Commanded by a German General, Commander Regional Command - North (RC-North).

There is a problem though - the Germans have very few maneuver forces in RC-North. A few thousand forces in the north, but very few that actually leave their bases. As a result, when something kinetic goes on, there is very little they will do. They do not have the ability to do something any US State's Highway Patrol could do - intercept two stolen tanker trucks. The option is to either let them go, or smash them with airpower. The right answer, of course, is to call in the airpower.

As a result, they rely on air. More often than not, when NATO forces call for air, it is an American flying that aircraft (though other nations do as well). America not only has the most aircraft overhead - unlike most other forces - they do not restrict their use. The Germans, for instance, only have helicopters, transport, and reconnaissance aircraft. They refuse to deploy the Luftwaffe - one of the best air forces in the world. Why? The don't want to have it do what the Germans prefer other nations to do.

This has nothing to do with the German soldiers, sailors (yes), and airmen you find in AFG. Give them the equipment and political top-cover and they will do everything asked of them - and do it well. No, this all has to do with the preening social/political elites back home who have not fully matured intellectually as a partner in the modern world.

The German politicians and German press have done a horrible job explaining to the German people what is actually going on in AFG and why. They like to see themselves as the good guys on the ground, and only want to focus on THEIR part of AFG. As a result, when "work" needs to be done - as is the Continental preference - they call on someone else to do the killing for them. What that buys the Germans is that if something goes wrong, they can simply blame the American, Brit, or other nation - though almost always American - and then point how it isn't Germany's fault - they just want to make AFG into Kosovo and go home. That shtick has gotten real old for everyone, especially the Americans.

So, what we have here is an American aircraft working for the German Army. They do what they are told, as we all do. Depending on the day, it could have been a Brit, French, or other nation's aircraft, but today as most American. If there is anyone "blame" - which there shouldn't be as this is a war and these things happen - then it is the Germans directing the aircraft. They don't like that.

One other thing that the Germans are not good at is getting their leadership to the front. This exchange - with the most uncomfortable Oberst in the German Army - is telling.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, visited the site Saturday where two charred trucks and yellow gas cans sat on a riverbed. He asked a top commander in Regional Command North about the response time.

"Why didn't RC-North come here quicker?" McChrystal asked Col. Georg Klein, the commander of the German base in Kunduz.
"I can honestly say it was a mistake," Klein answered, in a discussion witnessed by an Associated Press reporter.

On Sunday, Smith said that in McChrystal's judgment the response time "was probably longer than it should have been."
Smith said what he meant to say, because that is all he can do for his Commander. One thing McChrystal cannot do is fire is allied commanders in the North (German), South (Dutch), West (Italian), and Capital(French). East is American .... so .... you know how that works.

If all he can do is shame him - then so be it.

Now, those who want more conflict in the alliance are
stepping forward and trying hard to forge a wedge between the Americans and Germans - and don't forget German politics; they have an election coming up.
In Germany there was heavy criticism from the Network of the German Peace Movement, an umbrella organization for various German human rights and peace groups. "If information about this battle for the hijacked tankers near Kunduz is confirmed, then the Bundeswehr is responsible for a massacre," said peace activist Mannfred Stenner, head of the network. According to Stenner the bombing killed more than 50 Taliban fighters and around 40 civilians. "That is a horrifying price for a few gallons of stolen gas," he concluded.

A spokesperson for the German Defense Ministry said Friday that Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of the conservative Christian Democratic Union would not be making any statement yet. Details on the incident were still incomplete. In reply to a question put to him during the press conference, as to whether the Bundeswehr would continue to maintain that there was no war in Afghanistan, the spokesperson said, "this is about a stabilization effort. It is a robust stabilization effort, and as such, necessarily includes some fighting."
Angela - no time to get wobbly. The American military is trying to send you a message here. Stop trying to blame others when things don't go perfect. If you want full accountability, then deploy TACAIR from the Luftwaffe to Mazar-e-Sharif.

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