BERLIN/DAMASCUS/WASHINGTON (Own report) – The German Bundeswehr’s concrete role in the widely criticized air attacks carried out by the anti-IS coalition and its members has not become clear, even after the coalition’s air strikes on Syrian government forces near Deir al-Zor. The Bundeswehr is supporting air strikes on IS/DAESH not only by furnishing in-flight refueling – already more than 1,100 times – but also by supplying intelligence information. This information is passed on to all coalition members through the “information space” in the anti-IS coalition’s Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar), where several Bundeswehr officers are stationed. Observers assume that some of this intelligence, for example, can be used also by Turkey to prepare its operations against Kurdish units in Northern Syria. It is not clear, whether this data has played a role also in preparing attacks, resulting in civilian casualties, such as the anti-IS coalition’s air strikes on Manbij in mid-July, wherein more than 100 people were killed. Last June, the Bundeswehr declared that it had already evaluated more than 11,000 reconnaissance photos and passed them on to its allies fighting the war against IS.
Data in the Information Space
Cooperation among the allies is carried out in the United States’ Combined Air and Space Operations Center, CAOC, at the Al Udeid Air Base, 30 km Southwest of the Qatari capital, Doha. The CAOC is not only directing general air operations against Daesh, it is particularly planning and commanding also German flights. Eight Bundeswehr officers are stationed at the CAOC, who coordinate and control the air force operations, and obtain “insight into the operational command” during air strikes on Daesh, as the Bundeswehr explicitly confirms. One obtains a really “profound insight into the work and functioning of such commandos in action,” according to a German soldier. Allied states convey their information needs to the Bundeswehr. After evaluating their intelligence information, the Bundeswehr feeds the required data into the “information space” to which all coalition members, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have access. The data is also made available to the headquarters of the anti-IS coalition, the Combined Joint Task Force, CJTF, in Kuwait.
Trust is Better
What led to Saturday evening’s US air strike on the Syrian military positions – killing, according to Russian sources, 62, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 80 – has also not been clarified. According to the New York Times, based on a US military official, “Military intelligence” had identified the cluster of vehicles, as belonging to the Islamic State – erroneously. The attack went on for about 20 minutes, with the planes destroying the vehicles and gunning down dozens of people. The attack was only halted when a Russian official called CAOC in Al Udeld demanding an immediate end to the bombing. The attack was halted “within minutes.” Regardless of whether German reconnaissance data played a role in that air strike or in those resulting in civilian casualties, there remains also the question of whether German in-flight refueling has played a role in the attacks. If this is the case, the Bundeswehr must also assume its share of the responsibility for the deadly consequences of the attacks.