By now, things were no longer as calm as they had been in the small city of Kunduz, which the German soldiers had jokingly described as "Bad Kunduz" ("Kunduz Spa") at the beginning of their mission. In a "Threat Report" dated May 31, 2007 -- the only detailed assessment of the situation written by the Germans in the entire batch of documents -- the military analysts reached clear conclusions in the wake of three suicide bombings, in which three Bundeswehr soldiers and a number of Afghans had died.
"Contrary to all expectations of the Regional Command North, the attacks of the insurgents in Kunduz are going on as foreseen by the Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunduz and mentioned before several times," the German document states, adding that more attacks, particularly against ISAF troops, "are strongly expected."
According to the situation assessment, the insurgents were now also seeking to intimidate the population and discourage them from cooperating with the ISAF troops. The insurgents had apparently abandoned their previous strategy of avoiding civilian casualties among the local population whenever possible. "From the point of view of the Kunduz reconstruction team," it stated, that was "not valid anymore." Instead, the insurgents tried to drive a wedge between the population and the troops, and they were apparently successful. "The local media reported and agitated against ISAF and the United States in Kunduz for the first time," the report reads.
The final assessment remains valid to this day: "The security situation within the Kunduz Province is more and more uneasy and not stable."
An Increasingly Volatile Province
By 2008, the resistance had finally become established in the north. Intelligence sources reported that a group of 45 insurgents was taking German lessons in Pakistan's Waziristan region so that they could smuggle themselves into Afghanistan to become interpreters for the ISAF forces. Another 70 extremists had just completed driving lessons so that they could work as drivers for the Afghan security forces.
The situation became even more dangerous in 2009. In early May, the author of a report to the military intelligence division at ISAF headquarters in Kabul voiced concern that "intelligence information detailed here reflect a concrete risk posed to the German ISAF troops ... operating in the respective area."
As the situation began to heat up, German patrols increasingly requested American air support, which, in 2008, was a completely new phenomenon in the north. One of the many dramatic reports by the Kunduz reconstruction team, dated Oct. 5, 2009, reads: "Infantry company reports that infantry platoon G (for Germany) was still under heavy fire and were unable to hold position without close air support."
In the increasingly volatile province, the unit was headed once again for Chahar Dara, where most of the Taliban supporters lived, to clear possible explosives from the streets. German scouts also noticed that the enemy was bringing in reinforcements. The soldiers reported that they had fired an anti-tank Milan missile and had managed to "defeat" a few enemy fighters in the process. What exactly this meant -- that is, how many enemy fighters were wounded or killed -- was unclear. Two American F-15 fighter-bombers took off over the attackers, but their appearance and show of force alone was a sufficient deterrent. By then, such encounters had become routine in the north.
A NATO informant reported that the Taliban were looking for ways to break the Americans' air superiority and attack their fighter jets. But Qari Akha, a Chechen fighter with the Taliban who had a certain amount of technical expertise, advised them not to attack the US aircraft "because they are way too fast for rocket-propelled grenades." Instead of doing so, according to the report, "he suggested attacking German helicopters ... (because they) are large and slow enough to be shot down."
A Report Similar to Hundreds of Others
Absent from the American records is much additional information about the night between Sept. 3 and 4, 2009, during which the biggest tragedy of this Bundeswehr mission unfolded. The head of the German reconstruction team, Colonel Georg Klein, had requested air support from two American F-15s, which proceeded to bomb two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban that had become stuck on a sand bar in a river, killing up to 142 people, many of them civilians. The hijackers had told residents of the area that they could siphon off free gasoline from the trucks.
The corresponding entry in the war logs, written at 9:19 p.m., consisted of only a few lines. They stated that the commander of PRT Kunduz had contacted the forward air controller and, "after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity ... the PRT commander authorized an air strike." According to the so-called battle damage assessment -- which in this case was done by video -- 56 insurgents were killed and 14 others managed to flee in a northeasterly direction.
An update on the incident written a day later mentioned that, according to media reports, civilians might have been killed as well, and that General Stanley McChrystal, in a video conference with the German general at Regional Command North, personally demanded an explanation of the issue of civilian casualties. However, the original figures from the previous day were not corrected. The incident, which triggered an impassioned debate in Germany over the purpose of the Bundeswehr mission, appeared in the military reports as only one of hundreds of similar cases.
After the air strike, the intensity of the attacks against Germans in Afghanistan did in fact decrease for a short time. The Taliban had undoubtedly suffered heavy losses. Nevertheless, the Bundeswehr soldiers in Kunduz were not unaffected by the harsh criticism of their colonel's decision. Afterwards, they began to proceed with greater caution, not always an advantage in a war zone. The documents that have now come to light clearly indicate that the security situation in northern Afghanistan was steadily deteriorating.
Perilously Close to the Brink
A comparison between the German government's reports on Afghanistan to the federal parliament with the events described in the American war logs quickly reveals the extent to which important information is withheld from the German public. Government officials in Berlin keep their lips sealed when it comes to incidents in the region where Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed if they do not directly affect the German troops. But these incidents paint a more accurate picture of the real situation in northern Afghanistan and the kinds of threats the German troops there might face.
Countless reports in the war logs describe how the Afghan police and army in the north are bitterly fighting an enemy that is constantly advancing. In these clashes, German soldiers usually serve, at most, as advisors or medics tending to the wounded in field hospitals.
Day after day, police checkpoints are attacked or come under fire, patrols are targeted in deadly ambushes and roadside bombs explode. The number of Afghan security forces wounded or killed exceeds the German casualty count by far. It demonstrates that Afghanistan's armed forces are still a long way from being able to pacify the country, and that Afghanistan is in fact perilously close to the brink of a new civil war.
The numbers also illustrate something else as well: How little the Germans have achieved.
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