The Helpless Germans War Logs Illustrate Lack of Progress in Bundeswehr Deployment
The war logs obtained by WikiLeaks depict a situation in northern Afghanistan that is far worse than it is depicted in the reports German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives to parliament. They also show even though the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have been present since 2002, they have made little progress in Afghanistan.
Editor's note: The following article is an excerpt from this week's SPIEGEL cover story. The facts in the story come from a database of almost 92,000 American military reports on the state of the war in Afghanistan that were obtained by the WikiLeaks website. Britain's Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and SPIEGEL have all vetted the material and reported on the contents in articles that have been researched independently of each other. All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide an unvarnished image of the war in Afghanstan -- from the perspective of the soldiers on the ground.
The close to 92,000 log reports obtained by WikiLeaks do not include any new instances of excessive violence against civilians or illegal clandestine operations on the part of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, but they do show how poorly prepared Germany and its military were when they entered the Afghanistan war -- and why their mission will likely remain unfulfilled in the end.
The German army was clueless and naïve when it stumbled into the conflict. The Germans had expected that the relatively calm northern provinces where their soldiers were stationed would remain peaceful. Moreover, they believed their reconstruction teams would provide a model for the other allies on how best to help this country ravaged by civil war.
The first true resistance to the international troop presence in Afghanistan only began to form in late 2005 and early 2006, and it only developed when the insurgents began offering money to people willing to join the resistance and threatening those who weren't. Report after report in the raft of war logs note that the population was offered money in exchange for their active support of the insurgents.
For example, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- a terrorist group supported by al-Qaida that operates in the north near the border with Tajikistan, an area that is under the command of Germany's Bundeswehr -- offered local residents in the Takhar Province $700 to help it place roadside bombs along the main logistical routes used by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
$1,000 For a Successful Attack
In one report, an ISAF informant revealed that local Afghans, because they are relatively inconspicuous, are used to plant the bombs, which are then detonated by specialists. In Chapchi, a town in Badakshan Province, which is also in the zone assigned to the Germans, a Taliban commander even offered to pay $1,000 for the successful completion of an attack -- a lot of money in a country where the average annual per capita income is less than $500.
Meanwhile, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the Western alliance's most powerful enemies after the Taliban, has opened up his own deep pockets to fund the insurgency. "If you have any dignity left, join forces and attack the enemy," Hekmatyar told loyal followers of his group Hizb-e-Islami in the Logar Province. "Attack him with Stinger missiles, and no matter what the cost, $150,000 or $200,000, I will pay." When he made the statement in mid-March 2005, the resistance movement was still only limping along.
Hekmatyar is a veteran. An Islamist born in Kunduz Province, he fought against the Russians and, after they were driven out, he was part of the power struggle that laid waste to the capital, Kabul. These days, he is a fierce enemy of the Americans -- at least for the time being.
They may find some inspiration in Hekmatyar's rousing words, but his followers in the north are more likely to have found their fighting spirit as a result of the 100,000 to 500,000 Afghani ($2,000-$10,000) he distributed to every group leader. The war logs carefully note the words and investments of this generous Afghan extremist.
Foreign Fighters Play Key Role
While the Afghans were still hesitant to join the new conflict between the West and the Islamists in 2006, foreign fighters -- Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Chinese Uighurs -- played a key role from the start. They were ideological hardliners with close ties to al-Qaida, and they had a wealth of experience in the use of bomb attacks and suicide bombings, which were largely unknown in Afghanistan until then. In this way, the deadly techniques that had been used in the Iraq war were transferred to Afghanistan.
The first report of the notorious foreign fighters surfacing in northern Afghanistan was documented in the war logs on July 15, 2005. According to the entry, five Chechens arrived in the city of Kunduz to deliver modern weapons to a Taliban commander and attack the United Nations office there. The attack that was supposedly planned did not take place, but the transfer of technical know-how and new weapons systems to the Taliban described in the document would later contribute to the Germans' plight in Kunduz.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is also associated with the foreign jihadists. Haqqani, known as "Siraj," is the son of the legendary Afghan mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. Together with the Taliban and Hekmatyar, the Haqqani clan of warlords are among the three greatest opponents of Western forces in Afghanistan. In the digital war logs, his name appeared in "Tier 1" on a list of targets to be killed or taken captive, which qualified him as one of the Western alliance's most wanted terrorists.
Although Haqqani's fighters were concentrated primarily in the eastern part of the country, their presence was also felt in the north. According to an ISAF informant, a representative of Haqqani met with the leaders of the insurgency in Kunduz Province, Taliban commanders Mullah Rustam and Mullah Salam. Kunduz is the province where the largest number of German soldiers have died in attacks, ambushes and gun battles.
Attacks Planned Against German Reconstruction Team
In 2005, there were already signs that Rustam's fighters were planning to strike. Informants reported that, under Rustam's leadership, attacks were to be directed against the German reconstruction team in Kunduz "with modified motorcycles and bicycles."
Most of the reports provided specific details of ambushes and improvised explosive devices, but they also included warnings about possible kidnappings. The targets included employees of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which is aiding in reconstruction efforts in the Hindu Kush.
But from the Taliban's perspective, Rustam was apparently ineffective and his deputy, Mullah Salam, soon took over. The ISAF informants carefully monitored the change in command.
Salam ran a tight ship. After he took over, the commanders under his control were required to explain their plans in detail, discuss the likelihood of success and obtain his approval prior to each planned attack.
Both Mullah Salam and Mullah Rustam were at the top of the Western allies' so-called "Joint Prioritized Effects List" (JPEL), the classified list of the coalition troops' enemies including the names of Taliban, drug barons, bomb-makers and al-Qaida members, each with a number and a priority level. Soldiers with Germany's elite KSK special forces unit tried to capture them several times without success.
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.