The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The ongoing Debate in Germany

On Friday, three German soldiers have been killed and 7 wounded in a day of intense fighting with insurgents 40 km south of Kunduz. Here is an account of what we know so far about the events:

At 13.04, a patrol of the 1st Company, 373 Airborne Battalion, stopped to clear the road of IEDs in the Chahar Darreh district. It turned out to be an ambush by 30 to 40 insurgents (Al Jazeera spoke of 200) who opened fire. Until the end of the fighting at about 1700, seven German soldiers were wounded.

At 14.50, the reinforcements sent from the camp in Kunduz suffer an IED attack that leaves four soldiers wounded. During the ensuing gunfight, US helicopters evacuated the wounded. It was reported that one of the dismounting soldiers triggered the IED and the others were wounded during the dismounting operation.

At 15.35, the insurgents launch an attack on the police station of Chaher Darreh, which lasts until 1640. No German troop involvement in this fighting.

The 2nd Company, 372 Airborne Battalion, reinforced by 'Marder' Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), is sent to replace the 1st Company. On the way, a unmarked car approached the convoy. After the car failed to stop and warning shots were fired, one 'Marder' engages the car with its 20 mm cannon and kills all five or six (?) passengers. As it turns out, the men in civil were Afghan National Army soldiers.

By chance an army camera team was present during the fighting. Here is the clip.

In Germany, the war in Afghanistan is very unpopular. According to the latest poll, 70% of the Germans oppose the war. After such a bloody day, politicians, pundits and ex-officers rush to comment on what is wrong and how the situation for the troops could be improved. The government declares unisono that the mission in Afghanistan is crucial to German interests and that Germany will not pull out any time soon. In fact, there is no political party that demands an immediate withdrawal. See an earlier post of mine on this issue.

The criticism is mainly about the lack of 'Dingo' Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) for training purposes in Germany. This issue came up because it was reported that three casualties were wounded during the dismounting, which could not sufficiently be trained during the pre-deployment training in Germany. With my personal experience I would argue that dismounting of any vehicle is pretty similar, provided that the hatches are at the same side. Of course it is a problem that the army doesn't have the funds to 'train as you fight', but I doubt that the casualties would have been avoided if the 'Dingos' were available in Germany.

The incoming Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages, something like the rapporteur of the armed forces to the German Parliament, asked for 'Leopard' Main Battle Tanks (MBT) to be deployed. His reasoning is that the big gun would scare off insurgents and provide better force-protection. Well, this demand has been rejected by the armed forces and I totally agree. MBTs are not suited to fight an insurgency and their vulnerability against IEDs can thoroughly be studied on youtube.

However, I agree with the need for combat helicopters. Currently, the Germans only have some eight transport helicopters in Afghanistan and, therefore, rely entirely on US close air support. However, after the recent incident that left between 40 and 120 Afghans killed when to trucks were bombed, the German officers shy off from requesting air support. The fear of ending up in jail back in Germany would probably hinder ground troops to call for gunships and hinder gunship pilots of engaging targets on the ground. This dilemma calls for a solution. I will address it in a future post.

There is also a shortage of drones and other surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, as the former Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr, something like the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, pointed out. He also said that the politicians in Germany have no clue about the conditions the army operates in. I think that this statement is pretty undisputed.

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