A NATO airstrike ordered by a German commander in Afghanistan's Kunduz province may have sparked a rift between Berlin and Washington. One observer gave DW his view on the debate over Germany's ISAF mission.
The role of Germans in Afghanistan is a bone of contention
The German government has defended Friday's airstrike, in which at least 54 people were killed, saying that German troops were at immediate risk. Berlin said there are no confirmed reports that civilians were killed at all in the airstrike near Kunduz, although the US commander in Afghanistan says he believes some of the dead probably were non-combatants.
DW spoke to Henning Rieke, is a senior member of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.
DW: Is there a rift between the US and Germany developing?
I don't believe there is a rift or that there are profound differences between the US and Germany, that were not there before the air attack on the two tankers. The Americans are expecting the Germans to do more in Afghanistan, to be more flexible, to send more troops, to be available for combat in the south and the Germans refuse to do that. This has been a constant problem.
Both sides have now come closer together in many other aspects of the Afghanistan strategy, especially under the Obama administration. But what we have today is a kind of bickering between American NATO sources and German sources on how many people died in the air attacks. So, what we have is probably a lashing at the Germans, maybe at the working level, but I don't see this as a tactical move by the American government.
DW: Could this be a type of payback for the Germans because they haven't been involved in southern Afghanistan?
I don't believe that. If the American government had wanted the Germans to be more open to combat missions in Afghanistan, then they should have done the exact opposite. They should have played down the civilian losses in the wake of the bombing.
They should argue that this is normal warfare, and not point to the specifics of the situation, not leak information that seems to be, in my opinion, exaggerated. They should rather try to calm the situation, because now the German public is aroused and might be more opposed to a more forceful role in Afghanistan. So I believe it was officers on the working level that decided to take revenge on the Germans - but this is not American policy.
It is Jung's responsibility to support his officer, Rieke says
DW: Now there are still conflicting reports and ISAF has launched an official investigation but Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung remains certain that his commanding officer on the ground did the right thing under the circumstances. Why is he doing that?
First of all I think it is his responsibility to support the officer. But he has also said it is absolutely necessary to have an in-depth scrutiny of what happened that night. I believe that according to the data and information that Jung had, it was obvious that the decision taken was appropriate. If further information comes available he might change his mind.
DW: What are consequences for the ISAF mission in the future?
It could mean on the one hand that the Afghans become more and more frustrated with the forceful profile of the ISAF forces and it might also cause additonal civilian killings out of combat. But it could also mean that there is more resolve on the side of all ISAF partners to avoid exactly these civilians killings and to take more care that only the Taliban are hit during combat. This is a difficult task, but I think the Germans and the Americans have come to a consensus on this point, that you cannot win a war against terror if you alienate the Afghan people at the same time.
DW: It's hard to imagine a soldier having to face a civilian court over a decision taken while in uniform. But that's the situation that every German commander faces today. Is that a realistic scenario?
There is no military prosecution for wrongdoings in the military. In the US if something like this happened there would be a JAG (Judge Advocate General - eds.) procedure and you would keep this inside the military. We don't have a military judiciary and there are historical reasons for this. I don't believe that this will change.
Now what has been changed, and it might sound ridiculous for outside ears, is that the district attorney who is responsible for the area of the peacetime deployment is now responsible for scrutinizing or looking into the affairs in Afghanistan. That's the attorney in Potsdam, near Berlin, where the headquarters of the German forces in operation is situated, so there will be a specialized unit of the civilian judiciary looking into these military affairs. But we won't have a military judiciary and I think that's quite OK. I don't see that as a big problem.
Interview: Rick Demarest (nrt)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn