New details on Kunduz massacre disprove German government claims

By Ulrich Rippert
5 February 2010

New details about the massacre in Kunduz, Afghanistan, at the beginning of September last year, which costs the lives of 142 people including many civilians, disprove the statements and declarations made by the German government concerning the incident.

Under the heading “Secret Commando Operation Kunduz,” the online site of the weekly Die Zeit reports that an unusually high number of German elite soldiers—the so called KSK special operations force—were stationed in Kunduz at the beginning of September. The Web site also reported that the devastating bombing of two tankers in Kunduz was not an isolated event. At least five bombardments of targets in Afghanistan on the orders of German commanders had been carried out prior to the September 4 Kunduz bombing.

The report presents the following scenario: Of the 120 soldiers from the secret special-purpose Taskforce 47 in direct proximity to the German army camp in Kunduz, at least 60 belonged to the elite KSK unit. Such a concentration of KSK members in a single location is highly unusual.

The exact role played by the KSK in Taskforce 47 is unknown and subject to a blanket of secrecy. The role of the KSK as an elite unit within the German army, however, indicates that its members have command superiority over Taskforce 47.

The activities of Taskforce 47 in Afghanistan had been shrouded in secrecy until the autumn of last year. The role of the unit is to gather information on rebel forces, protect German field camps and cultivate Afghan informants. In addition, the unit controls the operations of fighter planes in the north of Afghanistan. “Taskforce 47 is not directed from Kunduz, but from the regional command post in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Die Zeit reports.

Taskforce 47 played a central role in the bombing attack carried out on September 4. The ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] report on the bombardment goes so far as to conclude that the air strike was initiated by the Taskforce. The German army denies this, but refuses to release all relevant information.

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the role of the KSK and the concentration of its force in Kunduz days before the air strike. Total membership of the KSK is just 1,200 soldiers, and according to a military spokesperson only around 240 men are actively involved in operations at any one time. This means a quarter of these active KSK soldier were gathered in Kunduz at the start of September—an unusual circumstance, according to Rainer Arnold, (Social Democratic Party, SPD) chairman of the parliamentary defence committee.

Normally the KSK operates in very small teams with groups of four or five men taking part in special operations. They may observe farmyards for days at a time in order to uncover leading Taliban rebels. The fact that so many KSK members were present in Kunduz points to a much bigger operation, but, as Arnold adds, “Nevertheless, the Defence Ministry is saying nothing.”

The concentration of KSK forces in September was also confirmed by Hans Peter Bartels, defence expert of the SPD. Bartels is one of the members of the German parliamentary committee of inquiry called to investigate the events in Kunduz. So far, however, speakers for the Defence Ministry and German army have refused to release any details, stressing that the activities of KSK units are top secret.

Nevertheless, other reports from ISAF and the German army indicate the real role played by the KSK. One officer of the KSK attached to Taskforce 47 was in contact with an Afghan informant who was in the vicinity of the stranded tankers and provided up to date information on what was taking place. It was on the basis of information from this informant, together with aerial photographs of the area, that Colonel Georg Klein gave the order for two American F15-fighters to bomb the tankers.

The flight sergeant who maintained contact with the US combat planes was also a member of Taskforce 47. It is unclear if this officer was also a member of the KSK. In any event, he played a key role in transmitting information between Colonel Klein and the US-fighter pilots who suggested on a number of occasions they carry out warning sorties before resorting to a direct attack.

The participation of KSK units in the massacre at Kunduz serves to disprove the statements by the German government that Colonel Klein had taken the decision to bomb the tankers alone and in order to prevent the tankers from being used to attack the German army operation centre.

The organizational structure of the KSK would not have allowed Klein to operate and give commands on his own. The elite unit is strictly disciplined and centrally organized. The leadership of the KSK in Afghanistan has its operation centre in Potsdam, near the German capital of Berlin, where all important decisions are made. “The KSK does nothing without agreement from Potsdam,” Rainer Arnold stressed, complaining about the wall of silence he has encountered from the relevant authorities in the German Defence Ministry. According to Arnold, any attempt to increase parliamentary control over the activities of the KSK is met with refusal and resistance.

Zeit-on-line quotes another parliamentary deputy as follows: “If there was a KSK deployment in the region on the night of the bombardment then there must have been contact with the operational centre in Potsdam.”

The parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Kunduz incident has already met on two occasions, but any questions on the role of the KSK and other relevant information have been stonewalled. It is the army leadership that decides what deputies should know and to what extent information can be passed on and published.

Upon its creation 10 years after the Second World War, in May 1955, the German army was subject to strict parliamentary control. Such control was aimed at preventing a return to the forms of German militarism that had led to the formation of the state within the state responsible for horrendous crimes in the war.

The current parliamentary investigation into the massacre at Kunduz makes clear that the former relationship between the army and parliament has already been transformed. Instead of parliament investigating the legal status of military operations and calling the army leadership to account, it is the military high command that calls the tune. It demands that parliamentarians demonstrate their increased support for a war that is opposed by two-thirds of the German population.

There are many indications that the massacre at Kunduz was consciously undertaken by sections of the army leadership in order to force politicians to provide far more support for this overwhelmingly unpopular military operation. At the same time, the massacre was to used in an effort to overcome the restrictions placed on the German army since its establishment in relation to so-called targeted killings—a practice long since used by the US, British and Israeli armies.

The strengthening of militarism in Germany is not limited to the pursuit of foreign policy aims—i.e., the securing of Germany’s geo-strategic interests against a background of increasing conflicts between the great powers. It is also directed toward the situation inside Germany itself as part of the preparations to use the German army against strikes and other forms of social militancy.

The litany of half truths and open lies on the part of the government and its defence minister represent a conspiracy against the population, but there is not a single party in parliament prepared to stand up to the military high command. In different ways, all of the German parliamentary parties support the war and declare their understanding for the “difficult tasks” being carried out by the army leadership.

The Left party is no exception in this respect. It has voted in parliament against extending the army’s mandate in Afghanistan—well aware that its vote would have no effect. At the same time, however, the party’s representatives on the committee of inquiry and defence committee abide strictly to the dictate of secrecy. They use their work in the committee in order to signal their support for the government’s stance and demonstrate their credentials as a reliable constitutional party.

Nobody dares to examine the criminal behaviour of the responsible military leaders and confront them with the legal consequences of their actions.

It should also be noted in this connection that the chief federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe has indicated that it is unlikely that any charges will be brought against Colonel Klein. The prosecutor’s office plans to wind down its investigations, arguing that the German army’s deployment in Afghanistan is covered by international law and should be classified as a “non-national armed conflict.” The Kunduz bombardment would then in turn be subject to “humanitarian international law,” which permits such military attacks against opponents in conflict. Media reports indicate that according to this interpretation of the law, civilians temporarily lose their right to protection if they enter a conflict situation.

In other words: the biggest war crime committed by the German army since the wartime atrocities of Wehrmacht are to go untried and unpunished, providing another important step in the strengthening of German militarism.

Contribute to the fight for socialism in 2020

2019 has been a year of mass social upheaval. We need you to help the WSWS and ICFI make 2020 the year of international socialist revival. We must expand our work and our influence in the international working class. If you agree, donate today. Thank you.