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US pilot opposed German Afghan attack orders

The Local · 5 Dec 2009, 10:07

Published: 05 Dec 2009 10:07 GMT+01:00

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The operation in September not only killed scores of Afghans, but also severely dented the reputation of the German military, cost the jobs of those in charge at the time and will be subjected to a full parliamentary investigation.

Now extracts from the Nato report published by Der Spiegel suggest the Germans overrode objections from the US pilots they were commanding, to insist the strike take place.

Radio communication between the F-15 pilot, with the call sign ‘Dude’, and the German officer issuing orders show that the Americans wanted to carry out not just one or two low flying passes as warnings but five.

But Colonel Georg Klein and his forward air controller with the call sign ‘Red Baron’, commanding the air strike from the German base, overruled the ‘Dude’ and ordered an attack.

“F-15 recommended a show of force five times throughout the mission in order to disperse the people,” the report says. But the ‘Red Baron’ replied, “Negative. The target should be attacked immediately.”

Wing commander Lance ‘Gipper’ Bunch, commander of the 335th Fighter Squadron Unit which supplied the F-15, also told investigators that there was disagreement with the Germans over how many bombs should be dropped on the two tankers.

He said the ‘Red Baron’ had called for six bombs, but that the Americans had refused.

“The crew told him this was not going to happen,” said Bunch. Two bombs were all that were necessary, he said.

The operation, which German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has admitted in parliament was militarily inappropriate, was initially defended by his predecessor Franz Josef Jung.

Jung and Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan have since resigned amid revelations the Defence Ministry had withheld information about the air strike called by Col. Klein to destroy the tankers which had been hijacked by the Taliban.

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The fear was that they could be used to attack a nearby German base, but it seems they had become stuck in a river bed and the Taliban were handing the fuel out to local villagers when the Nato bombers struck.

Volker Kauder, chair of the Christian Democratic parliamentary group, said he will call then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to answer the questions of the parliamentary investigative committee.

Both the conservatives and Steinmeier’s centre-left Social Democratic Party were in government when the strike took place in September.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:49 December 5, 2009 by martell
What do German soldiers and their generals and politicians expect when they are told to fight America's wars?
16:58 December 5, 2009 by Major B
These details shed a new light on the matter. Ouch!!!

Can't blame this on the Americans, who don't have nearly the problem with radical Islamists that the Europeans have. This area was peaceful til the Taliban needlessly brought the fight up north, thinking they could wrest control from the Germans cause they didn't want to fight.

All militaries make mistakes. The Bundeswehr can recover and this open investigation was good. Now, support and back the troops and allow them to clean out the hornets nest.
22:08 December 5, 2009 by Frenemy
@major b: wassup buddy?! You know, you and I are normally on the same [geopolitical] page, but in this particular instance I think we might be at odds. First of all, Bundeswehr troops in the sandbox are HIGHLY motivated and more than willing to drop a Tango or two when push comes to shove. Secondly, that supposedly "open" investigation was nothing more than a blame-game/public crucifixion!!

@martell: "America's wars"??!! I think you mean WESTERN wars. And, as Major B intimated, Europe has a LOT more at stake than the US...
00:44 December 6, 2009 by Major B
back @ Renemy : We're still on the same page man and will keep on seeing how this chapter plays out. Am glad to hear the Bundeswehr troops are highly motivated. My comments addressed a main point of the article: "the attack dented the reputation of the German military." I don't think it "dented" anything and hate to see the German government overreacting to the decision Col Klein made. Was proud when the initial government and Budeswehr response was to strongly defend the decision. An objective review of the service and efforts of the Germans, military and civilian, over the past 8 years in Northern Afghanistan reveals outstanding work. I was blasted on this site when I called for many more German military there a few weeks ago.

The attack is got caught up over the complaints made by the Afghan govmt and people over the last few years on the number of civilian casualties by airstrikes. I agree with the comments by many that the FRG should quit beating itself up over this.
04:28 December 6, 2009 by richard_vijay
The American armed forces have dented their reputation many times as well. Lets see...hmmm how many pakistanis soldiers and civlilians have died from UCAV attacks..how many weddings have been declared taliban meeting and have been hit by missiles and bombs.How many alleid service men have been in fraticidle incidents caused by the American.s The German commander was rigjtfully worries that the two tankers could be used to attack the German base. You cannot ask questons when immediate and probable danger lurks that come come to you at an instance. You have to decide what to do to protect yourselves.
08:55 December 6, 2009 by Barry James
A tragedy no doubt. However, the Politicians were not there. The critics were not there. However Colonel Klein was. He made the call from his position and situation. Quite obviously, this man had to 'fall on his sword' for political expediency.

Even 'Special Forces' are now under scrutiny by the 'Politicians' for their actions.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, 'never vote a lawyer into power'.

As to 'fighting American wars' -

10:49 December 5, 2009 by martell

Just broach that subject to the Russians. I am sure they will give you a sympathetic hearing. Especially Russian Vets.
13:31 December 6, 2009 by Devtc33
This has nothing to do with the reputation of the American military. It is just a statement that the eyes in the field were ignored. This is a common problem of all militaries. Those in charge who do not lead from the front make bad decisions period. I have witnessed this personally.

The civilian leaders are in their full rights to demand accountability from the military leaders especially anyone hiding the facts from the German people. There should not ever be heard "We did not know" from the people. This excuse was used before to sad consequences.

It boils down to one thing and one thing only. Boots on the ground is the best but most dangerous option to avoid errors in judgement from those secured in hidden bunkers.

Colonel Klein should have listened to his people with eyes on no matter American, German or any other allied solder. I believe this is more of an effect of the lack of joint training that used to be done during the cold war. It has been 20 years since the fall and almost that many since major joint training was conducted outside of a computer simulation. The fault is not his alone but as a senior officer he should know his history.

Leaders lead from the front.
10:43 December 7, 2009 by Barry James
13:31 December 6, 2009 by Devtc33

Computer Simulation. Of course you are correct. A factor I did over look.

As to your other points. Well put.

My only point I wish to make is, that politicians send young men to war, but as history as proven, Honor on the battlefield is much more Honorable than Honor on the 'Hustings.'
14:57 December 7, 2009 by Frenemy
@major b: ok, i take it back. we are in agreement 100%

@richardvijay: I don't have any stats, but if Paki soldiers were killed in any "ucav" strikes, it was due to tactical incompetence, because the Pakistanis are the ones requesting air strikes at a rate of like 15 per day (oh and by the way, there is no such platform being fielded at present. a ucav and a uav are two very different "toys" ;-) )

@barryjames: lol, thats rich!! u being sarcastic?! which Rusky vets?! the ones from Afghanistan?!

@devtc33: F his "people"!!! That's precisely what ISR platforms were designed for...(!)
16:18 December 7, 2009 by lordwilliams629
We Americans need to fight our own wars. We also need to have other countrys step aside and do it ourselfs. Because most countrys hate us we also need to stay away from putting our troops in to protect any country. Not one Americans life is worth losing to save any country other than our own. And to you people who hate us, my middle finger goes in your direction.
18:17 December 7, 2009 by Frenemy
@lordwilliams629: right. which one specifically?! super-power or not, if u think the US can do this solo, ur in for a surprise bud!

"Not one Americans life is worth losing to save any country other than our own"??? Ummmm, I think there are a bunch of people represented by white crosses in Arlington (Cem) and Normandy (Omaha Beach) who would beg to differ, dude...
20:38 December 7, 2009 by Major B
@Frenenmy: ref the above, tell em guy. True, true, true. It just ain't that simple.
21:41 December 7, 2009 by reich1900
I think you all miss the point. The Talaban is to be BLAMED and one on else. They put the civilians in the line of fire not anyone else. The German officer was correct to order the attack, the American pilot was correct to question the droping of the bombs, But it was the judgment of the German Officer that counts and he made the correct call. This is a war and you should be in it to WIN or get out. The days of armys lining up and shooting at each other while civilians watched has been long over. War is HELL and people get killed no if ands or buts. Better the other guy and not one of your own.
02:26 December 8, 2009 by Frenemy
Yeah, the guy driving the Eagle was correct to question the QUANTITY of munitions necessary to accomplish the mission objectives. But fighter pilots have no business making policy decision directives....("right" or "wrong" is immaterial in this situation)

But yeah, I don't remember who originally said this (maybe Patton or someone?), but: loosely paraphrased: its all well and good to die for your country, but its preferable to have the other guy die for his FIRST!
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