19 May 2008

Rules of Engagement. Or, the Exception within the Exception

An interesting Der Spiegel article on German rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

Germany's KSK special forces have been charged with capturing the terrorist, in cooperation with the Afghan secret service organization NDS and the Afghan army. The German elite soldiers were able to uncover the Taliban commander's location. They spent weeks studying his behavior and habits: when he left his house and with whom, how many men he had around him and what weapons they carried, the color of his turban and what vehicles he drove.

At the end of March, they decided to act to seize the commander. Under the protection of darkness, the KSK, together with Afghan forces, advanced toward their target. Wearing black and equipped with night-vision goggles, the team came within just a few hundred meters of their target before they were discovered by Taliban forces.

The dangerous terrorist escaped. It would, however, have been possible for the Germans to kill him -- but the KSK were not authorized to do so.

...The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while -- and to "eliminate" the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

From a military point of view, the so-called targeting has been a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban leaders, about 150 commanders, have since been "neutralized," meaning they are either dead or captured. Most of the capture-or-kill missions, as the operations are called in military jargon, are undertaken by British or American special forces.

...[E]ven in a time of growing threats in Afghanistan, Berlin is sticking to its "principle of proportionality," stressed one high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry. A fugitive like the Baghlan bomber is not an aggressor and should not be shot unless necessary, the official explains.

Soldiers from Britain's British Special Air Service or the US's Delta Force are less bothered about such hair-splitting. For them, this is a war in which it comes down to "kill or be killed," say sources in military circles in Kabul. The "targets" are identified, tracked down and -- often with the help of laser-guided weapons systems -- "eliminated."

The Germans have considerable misgivings about such an approach. They have secretly given "clarification notes" to NATO with far-ranging instructions for their soldiers which expressly contradict the usual procedures: "The use of lethal force is prohibited unless an attack is taking place or is imminent." Sources in NATO circles regard the confidential document as a "national exception," a caveat which places restrictions on operational capability. The Germans, for their part, always avoid using the word caveat, out of diplomatic considerations vis-à-vis their allies.

The most remarkable thing about the secret document is its stated justification. The German government considers its allies' approach as "not being in conformity with international law." Little wonder that NATO's mission in Afghanistan is marked by tension and friction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is the link with Schmitt? Maybe I am missing something here...They are all German?