During that fateful night, Klein and his air controller were sitting in their command post at the dimly lit Tactical Operations Center. They were in contact with an Afghan informant, considered reliable, who had reported that the people gathered around the trucks were all Taliban. In addition, the two Germans were looking at blurred video images transmitted by the fighter jets in real time to a "Rover 3" device.
The Rover 3, which resembles a conventional laptop, is not the latest model. Its black-and-white images are not clear enough for individuals' weapons to be easily identified. "You can still see a bazooka quite clearly," says an officer familiar with the Rover 3, "but not an ordinary Kalashnikov."
Because of these shortcomings, Klein's predecessor had already requested the "significantly more powerful Rover 4 system" last year, according to a Bundeswehr report. The device was "urgently needed" for forces located in main conflict areas such as Kunduz, Brigadier General Jörg Vollmer, the commander of German troops in northern Afghanistan, wrote in August, just 10 days before the attack.
Because of the "complexity of the software," Rover operators should be trained at home in Germany instead of waiting until after their arrival in Afghanistan, according to a confidential memo written in October 2008. "This includes making the system available and approving it for training purposes in Germany," the memo continues. But in the past the US Air Force has only made the necessary aircraft available in Germany in exceptional cases.
An even more serious concern has been the relatively poor coordination between Germans and Americans, even on strategic matters. The NATO ambassadors of the 28 member states met last week at NATO headquarters in Brussels to listen to a report by General Stanley McChrystal, who has been commander of the ISAF stabilization forces in Afghanistan since June. In the half-hour report, transmitted by video link, the US general explained the strategy with which he intends to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan.
McChrystal, who called for "new thinking," said that the conflict could only be won by winning over the civilian population, and not "simply by killing insurgents." Under the new strategy, McChrystal said, the allied forces were to reduce their emphasis on air strikes and do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties.
His words sent a chill down the spines of the German diplomats and senior military officials attending the meeting, as they thought of Colonel Klein and the new tactics German forces had adopted. German troops are now belatedly doing what the Americans and other allies have wanted them to do for years, as they begin taking the fight to the Taliban and showing less concern for civilian casualties.
"An immediate and extensive improvement of the situation throughout Kunduz province cannot be achieved with the current contingent of German forces," Brigadier General Vollmer writes in his progress report. To defeat the Taliban, Vollmer continues, more troops, armored vehicles and combat helicopters are needed. "The influence of the insurgents cannot be significantly reduced with conventional forces and the current approach."