Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The German Airstrike Situation

A German-ordered airstrike in Afghanistan last Friday has turned into a major domestic and international incident for Germany.  To recap what happened, a German commander in Afghanistan called in an airstrike on two hijacked fuel tanker-trucks, fearing that they would be used for a suicide-bombing attack on a nearby German base. Up to as many as 125 people were killed in the attack -- apparently many of them civilians. The strike was actually carried out by a U.S. plane.

The German action came under intense criticism from the Afghan government, German opposition politicians/parties, and NATO allies, including the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal. Afghan President Karzai claims that McChrystal called him, disclaimed any responsibility for the attack, and apologized.  

This whole thing demonstrates how not to handle such situations, and how not to conduct coalition warfare. Without waiting for any investigation, the German defense minister immediately insisted that only Taliban fighters were killed, destroying his credibility when the extent of civilian deaths became apparent. The U.S. commander, rather than keeping his mouth shut, and reserving comment until after the incident was investigated, foolishly criticized the Germans and undercut them with the Afghan government. Now the German government is irritated at the lack of support from the U.S. And then there is the German opposition. Rather than support their forces, who were in a difficult position, they'd rather attack them in order to undermine their mission in Afghanistan.  

I'm not a big fan of airstrikes in Afghanistan. They are a blunt instrument that isn't well suited for the nature of the war we are trying to fight. They almost always result in significant collateral damage, and irritate the Afghan government we are supposed to be supporting. But, the excessive whining about civilian casualties is getting ridiculous. Civilians die in wars, and they are even more likely to die when it is difficult to tell the civilians from the combatants. The German commander did what he thought was necessary to protect his men. Since the U.S. allowed him to call in our planes, we should have backed him up, not run to the Afghan government to say we had nothing to do with giving the order.  As for the Afghan government, it needs to stop its constant complaining and start facing reality.

1 comment:

  1. That may be the only fair opinion on the airstrike I've heard so far. At least someone has some common sense.