German Mission in Afghanistan The Impotent Rage of a German Soldier's Mother

Seven German soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in April. The mother of one of the men who died now wants to take German politicians and military officials to court. She says they were deprived of essential military equipment.
Soldiers stand beside the coffin of Nils Bruns, one of three German soldiers killed in Afghanistan in an ambush by Taliban fighters on April 2.

Soldiers stand beside the coffin of Nils Bruns, one of three German soldiers killed in Afghanistan in an ambush by Taliban fighters on April 2.

Foto: POOL/ REUTERS

She could have suffered in silence like the others, and she could have wrapped herself in quiet mourning, but then came the anger. Her only son was dead and someone was responsible, someone had to be responsible, the mother thought. He was married and the father of a daughter who is almost three. He died on a Friday afternoon near Isa Khel, the 38th German soldier to die in Afghanistan.

Karola Rosendahl, 53, the mother of paratrooper Nils Bruns, wrote a letter filled with impotent rage about her son's death to German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party. Rosendahl, a trained hotel manager who has been out of work for several months, has also begun to reconstruct the battle that robbed her of her son. She has immersed herself in information about the war, speaking with other soldiers who fought by his side, visiting soldier forums on the Internet and cutting out newspaper articles. She says that she owes it to her son.

But the deeper she became involved, the more haunting were the questions she was seeking to answer. Under what circumstances did Nils die? Why did the battle take so long? Shouldn't reinforcements have arrived earlier? What happened to air support? Why did the guns the soldiers were using get so hot that they malfunctioned? "There are still so many unanswered questions," says Rosendahl. The questions, and her quest to find answers, have become a central part of her life.

'His Death Could and Should Have Been Prevented'

Together with her partner, a lawyer from the central German city of Göttingen, Rosendahl has now filed a legal complaint. She wants a public prosecutor to investigate the German military, or Bundeswehr, the defense minister and the commanders who issued the orders that sent her son and his fellow soldiers into battle. According to the five-page letter to the public prosecutor's office in Potsdam, outside Berlin, Rosendahl, "on mature reflection and comprehensive research, has arrived at the conviction that the death of her son could and should have been prevented, given the circumstances."

Rosendahl is demanding clarification about the war and wants to see those she considers responsible in court. She is a furious mother mourning the death of her son, another victim, like the many soldiers who have died or suffered emotional or physical damage.

Her son was a deputy platoon commander in the Third Company of the 373rd Paratrooper Battalion, stationed in Seedorf, a town in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, halfway between Bremen and Hamburg. In mid-February, soldiers in the unit said goodbye to their families in a solemn ceremony. Rosendahl, unable to find her son among the saluting soldiers, instead had to listen to a parliamentary state secretary talk about the difficult security situation in Afghanistan. "You sit there and all you want to do is scream," she says. A week later, Nils was already en route to the war.

He called his mother regularly from Kunduz, but knowing that it would only make her even more worried, he said little about his missions. Bruns was a considerate and responsible officer, a reliable comrade, Defense Minister Guttenberg later said at the coffin. "He always wanted to protect everyone," says his mother.

Shortly after 1 p.m. on April 2, Good Friday, his unit received an order to rush to the aid of another unit that had been searching for and removing mines and booby traps six kilometers west of the Bundeswehr base in Kunduz and had been ambushed. About 35 Taliban fighters were shooting at the German soldiers with Kalashnikovs and bazookas, and the gunfire was coming at the soldiers from several different directions. They were unable to seek shelter in a nearby police station, because it too was under fire.

Later, the soldiers began running out of ammunition for their 40-millimeter grenade machine guns, and stocks were even running low even at the field base in Kunduz. The logistics personnel in Kunduz had to request supplies from the German base in Mazar-e-Sharif, which was at least a four-and-a-half-hour trip in an armored personnel carrier. Meanwhile, the Bundeswehr was embroiled in the toughest and longest battle it had waged until then.

Bruns was running next to a Dingo armored vehicle when an explosive device, apparently triggered remotely, exploded under the vehicle at about 2:50 p.m. US combat medics took him and a lance corporal to a field hospital under a hail of bullets. But it was too late.

'Military Assistance was Deliberately Withheld'

The soldiers should not have been sent on that mission, says Bruns' mother. She cites reports by the parliamentary commissioner of the armed forces, who has been critical of equipment problems for years. The Bundeswehr knew about the deficits, so why didn't it take corrective action, Rosendahl asks? Why did the Bundeswehr go into battle without helicopters, which could have helped her son? "During the fighting on April 2, 2010, the unit of First Sergeant Nils Bruns was left to die while military assistance was deliberately withheld," her attorney writes.

The Defense Ministry is familiar with the complaint but is unwilling to comment on the investigation. The public prosecutor's office in Potsdam has passed on the complaint to public prosecutors in Berlin and Oldenburg. However, it is unlikely to lead to a trial.

Rosendahl is now reading books by veterans and writing letters to the parliamentary commissioner of the armed forces in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin. She has buried the urn containing her son's ashes. "I cry every day," she says. The war in her head won't be be over for a long time.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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