Speculation: The KSK and OEF-A

Germany has had 100 KSK commando troops authorized for the OEF-A (Afghanistan, hunt for AQ and Taliban) mission for several years.

The mission was apparently quite a farce because - as it seems - the KSK only got few raids and combat missions assigned by OEF superiors in the past few years after participating in some early actions in the very first years of OEF-A.

I've experienced more than enough primitive provocations and nation bashing attempts along the lines of "Germans drink only beer in Afghanistan, even their special forces don't fight" in 2008.
Such primitive and ill-informed (as almost everyone is almost non-informed about the quite secretive KSK) comments are always useful as an indicator for the intelligence of their author.

Well, it took me some time to think about the mosaic pieces of the KSK mission in Afghanistan - tiny bits of information that leaked out over the past years - to synthesize a more reasonable speculation on what might have happened.
It's still a mere speculation and wouldn't be good enough for this blog if it hadn't lots of interesting background attached. Maybe you prefer to wait till historians tell us in 2020 what happened you might still be interested in the background (if you're not very familiar with the Bundeswehr's inner workings).

The background begins in the 1930's. Sometime in the 1930's Hitler gained the loyalty of the Reichswehr/Wehrmacht and its quite conservative officers, which culminated in a personal oath on Hitler instead of an oath for the German nation/people/ or on what was left of the constitution.
This loyalty had always some fractures (the most famous one being the June 20, 1944 coup d`état attempt), but the military was a tool for Hitler.

The Western German state got re-armed in the 50's to take over the greatest share of ground combat power responsibility in the Central European guard against Stalin/the Warsaw Pact.
We didn't want an army that would be as fallible as the Reichswehr, though. The tool to prevent such a failure to resist an evil dictator was "Innere Führung" - "inner leadership".

It's a system that emphasizes the soldier as a "Staatsbürger in Uniform", "citizen in uniform".
It's a complex system of rules and teachings, and aimed at an army full of soldiers worthy of a democratic society, ultimately under the primacy of democratic politicians. One example: It's explicitly forbidden to execute an order that's illegal. There's no excuse for committing crimes as a soldier, even if a General had ordered you to do it (the Nazi time soldiers had excused themselves as merely following orders).

That was mosaic piece one: Innere Führung

The next background stems from the 90's.

We had small specialized units inside our paratrooper force during the Cold War; Ranger- and Spetznaz-like airborne commando units with a focus on small raids.
They received some additional training for hostage situations during the early 90's.

We wanted to have some German citizens evacuated during the Rwandan crisis in 1994, but had supposedly no suitable troops at hand, and the Germans were evacuated by Belgian commandos. A greater readiness for improvisation, risk-taking and a greater confidence into our infantry would have enabled us to do the job, but our leadership recognized a deficiency nevertheless.

It was decided to raise the KSK special forces as a regiment-sized force in 1995. Its beginning was quite significantly coined by the evacuation & hostage rescue missions, with several platoons specializing on this.

That was mosaic piece two; the KSK was meant and understood itself as a 'do-gooder' savior force, to rescue German civilians.

I saw a strange political journal report about the KSK sometime like 2005 or 2006; it was about a kind of revolt and dissatisfaction in the KSK. I remember two points especially well:
First, KSK soldiers supposedly commented to the author about despicable attitudes of allied (if I remember correctly: American) special forces. One example used was what they were supposed to do if almost compromised in a hideout by a nearby civilian. A classic situation out of the "Bravo Two Zero" story about the SAS in Iraq 1991 on Scud hunt. They SAS failed to remain hidden because a shepherd boy reported them to Iraqi troops - they had tried to talk to him.
The American solution to this was -according to the article - to silently kill the civilian.
Such an action would be a murder for a German and was completely unacceptable (keep in mind what I wrote about Innere Führung). The KSK has a rather dubious reputation in Germany due to its secrecy and is suspected of not sticking to Innere Führung well enough, but maybe it is much better than its reputation in this regard.

The other memorable part of the story was that the KSK was increasingly oriented towards assassination missions in its training - soldiers who experienced this and were to be deployed to Afghanistan expressed their concern about this through the author of the article.

That was mosaic piece three: The expectations for the KSK in OEF-A might have been illegal and contrary to Bundeswehr tradition/rules.

I mentioned before that the 'beer+cowards' interpretation is pretty obviously too primitive and only a speculation anyway.

No I've got another speculation, one that's as unproven but at least more interesting and fitting well to the leaks:
The OEF-A mission requirements were too "dirty", too "illegal" for the Bundeswehr. The Bundeswehr was built up as the shield of a democratic state that insisted on legal constraints and good ethics of its heavily-armed soldiers.
It was and is as such more advanced, more founded on legality and ethics than allied fores, and incorporating lessons that other forces didn't incorporate.
The KSK was probably both competent and willing to fight against AQ and Taliban as done early on in OEF-A, but not willing to deviate from the Bundeswehr's ethics and legal mandate.

Maybe my speculation is correct; I would be pleasantly surprised. The war in Afghanistan is not very important to our security (probably even detrimental to it) and irrelevant to our sovereignty. It's not worth to give up our values for it, and as Jon Stewart said:
"If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values; they're hobbies."
He's a comedian, I know. I like his show.

Again; this is just a speculation.
It's a more believable one than the primitive nation bashers' speculation, though.

Sven Ortmann


  1. "Inner guiding" and "citizen in uniform" look really precious concepts to develope a soldier's moral compass. Of course, tense or gray situations, can test (or stretch) them hardly...
    But I'd prefer living in a country where these concepts are at least taught and generally accepted!

  2. SecDef Schmidt fired a general in 1969 after this general had criticized Innere Führung as something that should be removed. Schmidt became later one of the most respected chancellors and elder statesmen of Germany.

    Innere Führung has been under near-constant pressure of those who believe it's an obstacle to esprit du corps, warrior spirit and military effectiveness. It was widely understood among senior officers as a temporary concession to the social democrats till the 60's.

    It's not easy to hold it up, and has never fully convinced all officers, but it's pretty much the bond to our society and a condition for civilian majority support for the Bundeswehr.

  3. There were enough transgressions when I was a conscript, but in essence this concept is important to remain intact as a human being. One should perhaps look at the moral and health burden of soldiers who are commanded to do unethical work and obey.


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