What is it to be a parachute hunter?

"It's damn hard, damn hard"

Status: 08/30/2019 01:00 a.m.

The death, wounding and trauma of the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan continue to preoccupy soldiers, politicians and the general public. The paratroopers in Seedorf, Lower Saxony, have memories of the fatal Good Friday battle in 2010 - three comrades died back then. Three surviving soldiers describe their experiences impressively in the radio and podcast series "Killed in Action - Germany at War" from NDR Info. The former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU) also criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) for the austerity measures in the toughest phase of the Bundeswehr's Afghanistan mission.

Axel Hammers stands next to the three crosses that remind of the three soldiers who died on April 2, 2010 on the barracks site in Seedorf.

A simple memorial stone with three wooden crosses in the Seedorf paratrooper barracks commemorates the fallen on April 2, 2010. Due to its intensity, the Good Friday battle is the toughest battle since the Bundeswehr was founded. The fighting between the Taliban and the Lower Saxony paratroopers lasted eight hours. Three Germans died, eight more suffered injuries, some of them life-threatening.

"To defend bravely, that means also to fight as a consequence, to commit one's health or even one's life. The Good Friday battle made this clear to us," said the then site commander Christian von Blumröder in a speech to young recruits in the spring in the barracks.

A "bad feeling" is confirmed

Axel Hammers is an important part of the collective memory of the Seedorf paratroopers. As a spit, he was one of the soldiers' most important contacts here as the "mother of the company" for twelve years.

Hammers remembers how he said goodbye to his "boys" on April 2, 2010 in the Bundeswehr field camp in Kunduz and was left with an "uncomfortable feeling in the stomach area" himself. That was confirmed just a few hours later. When a comrade brought the first news of his death, "I really had to swallow hard and didn't know what to expect". More bad news should follow.

Taliban fighters set off a booby trap

Maik Mutschke is mentally stable today. He makes a career as a marksman.

"Allahu akbar" ("Allah is great") can be heard in a propaganda video of the Taliban when they opened fire on the paratroopers of the German armed forces in the village of Isa Khel near Kunduz in the afternoon on Good Friday 2010. The unit searches the street for mines. Maik Mutschke is part of a squad that is supposed to recover a small reconnaissance drone that crashed in a field. And with it he runs the Taliban in front of the estuary. Heavy fire ensues and the first people are injured. Mutschke wants to get help. "Boys and girls here, no matter how, someone has to break away from us," he said at the time, says the now 33-year-old. "Then I jumped up, ran to the left in the direction of the firing position. We had fire from the right, from the front and from the left. There was no other option."

Mutschke is successful. But the worst is yet to come. A dingo, an armored troop transport, turns around in the middle of Isa Khel to make his way back to the German camp. The Taliban fighters set off a booby trap. Maik Mutschke survived with luck, but seriously injured. Half his face is torn away, he has burns, a traumatic brain injury, and a paralyzed arm.

"I couldn't do anything anyway"

Alex was 25 years old when a missile narrowly missed him in Afghanistan.

Alex, as he simply wants to be called, is also outside that day. His police force is supposed to clarify the circumstances of the battle. But there is still heavy shooting and he is diverted to the nearby Afghan police headquarters of Char Darrah. But before that, the many Bundeswehr vehicles jam on the main road.

Suddenly, Alex sees red lightning bolt from the muzzle of a Taliban missile launcher. "And in that moment I was frozen, I couldn't do anything anyway." To this day, he cannot remember the impact of the rocket, which narrowly missed the now 35-year-old. But this moment changes Alex's life completely. He is still fighting his severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to this day.

Were many soldiers "horny for war"?

Philipp Pordzik criticizes the fact that many mistakes were made in the battle on Good Friday 2010.

On this Good Friday 2010, Philipp Pordzik was not in the battle from the start. The platoon leader and his paratroopers were on standby and were called for reinforcements. But nobody knew where friend and where enemy were, he remembers. Pure chaos reigned. "We saw unguided soldiers who shot somewhere in one direction," remembers the 42-year-old, who now works as a paratrooper trainer in Upper Bavaria.

In "dynamic battles" like this, it is "difficult to always keep a comprehensive and precise picture of the situation", explains the Bundeswehr operations command at the request of NDR Info. In Pordzik's view, there were many mistakes and omissions at the time. Also because many soldiers were "horny for war" who wanted to "earn their spurs in combat". Others contradict: At that time there was no unresolved account with the Taliban. Nobody sought the battle.

Zu Guttenberg criticizes predecessor Jung ...

Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister zu Guttenberg also took part in the funeral service for the three soldiers who died in Afghanistan in April 2010.

The Taliban had planned the ambush and defeated the heavily armed Germans. And that six months after Afghan civilians were killed in a bombing of two tank trucks ordered by the Bundeswehr. At the memorial service for the fallen soldiers of the Good Friday battle, the then Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU) said what many soldiers have long wanted to hear. "What we had to experience in Kunduz on Good Friday, understandably call it war. Me too."

His predecessor Franz Josef Jung (CDU) accuses zu Guttenberg in the NDR Info Interview of "bowing down to the truth and realities" in Afghanistan and "a print, a fuss". In an interview for the radio and podcast series "Killed in Action - Germany at War", Jung defended his choice of words at the time. He did not want to force military terms such as war and spoke of a stabilization mission to make it clear that militarily alone cannot be won in Afghanistan: "Without security there is no development, but without development there is no security. That is why I deliberately did not speak of war because, of course, war does not include this concept of networked security. "

Zu Guttenberg said that it annoyed him at the time, because support for the necessary equipment in the field should have been advertised. "And if one speaks of stabilization missions and gives the impression that we are essentially waving and digging wells, then of course we can hardly expect approval from a Bundestag or other decision-makers."

... and also Chancellor Merkel

Today zu Guttenberg is often accused of having concentrated one-sidedly on foreign missions and to be responsible for the austerity measures of the Bundeswehr. The CSU politician rejects these allegations and refers to the role of the Federal Chancellor. Although he resisted the cuts during his term in office from 2009 to 2011 in order to better equip the troops for missions abroad, such as in Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated "considerable austerity measures".

"The austerity efforts at that time emanated from the Federal Chancellery," said zu Guttenberg - and they were "supported with great vehemence" by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU). Merkel has to put on the shoe. On the other hand, he himself called for a "better professionalization of the Bundeswehr" and better equipment for the soldiers who were experiencing the toughest phase of the Afghanistan mission at the time.

Bundeswehr doctors estimate: tens of thousands are mentally ill

AUDIO: Good Friday battle: many mistakes and omissions (31 min)

While still on duty, Axel Hammers tried to help those involved in the Good Friday battle to process their experiences. "Then you approach it with a lot, a lot of emotion and sometimes you have to hug them, comfort them and stroke them on the head." Since last year, the 50-year-old has been giving full-time advice to so-called disabled people in Seedorf, helping them through the bureaucracy jungle, among other things.

According to a study by social scientists from the Bundeswehr, around 260 soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014. According to estimates by Bundeswehr doctors, tens of thousands are mentally ill. Around three percent of all soldiers suffer from psychotraumatic stress disorders - soldiers like Alex, who is still able to work part-time for the German Armed Forces in the Harz Mountains and is in therapy due to the Act on Further Use. But he has lost all friends due to the illness, can no longer go public without a state of fear - and he experiences the images of the mission over and over again "in an endless loop". Only his wife and son let him hold out, "but it's damn hard, damn hard."

Dossier on the radio and podcast series from NDR Info

Killed in Action - Germany at War

In a radio and podcast series, NDR Info describes the changes in the Bundeswehr due to the Afghanistan mission in recent years. Three soldiers openly describe their experiences. more

"Killed in Action" - What the podcast title means

The term is used in the international military for soldiers who were killed in direct combat operations. It was used in reports and statistics from multinational operations in Afghanistan. In contrast, the German term "Gefallener" includes everyone who died in an operation, including soldiers who were killed in attacks or accidents. In the opinion of the authors, "Killed in Action" expresses what made the Afghanistan mission radically new for the Bundeswehr: open combat in combat with a large number of people killed.

This topic in the program:

NDR Info | Killed in Action - Germany at War | 08/30/2019 | 6:20 am