A German army officer who ordered a deadly airstrike on two fuel trucks in Afghanistan, leaving many civilians dead, violated procedures, a preliminary NATO investigation has found.
In a report published Thursday, the German daily, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, quotes the initial NATO review of the incident stating that Colonel Georg Klein overstepped his authority and misjudged the situation, which occurred on September 4th in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province.
Colonel Klein called in American forces for an airstrike after Taliban militants seized two NATO fuel trucks, fearing they would be used as truck bombs against ISAF international security forces, or their installations in the vicinity.
The preliminary report concluded, however, that ISAF troops were not in imminent danger because the vehicles had gotten stuck in the mud at a local river crossing and were being closely monitored.
It is “crystal clear” that Colonel Klein did not respect decision-making procedures, an unnamed high-ranking German officer in NATO told the Munich-based newspaper.
He said that NATO’s so-called “Close Air Support” can only be called in when troops on the ground are engaged in fighting.
A spokesman for German defense ministry, however, called the NATO report a “travelogue” of unconfirmed speculation. Germany’s top military commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Joerg Vollmer, said he “stood fully behind” Colonel Klein. Speaking to the Associated Press by telephone from Kunduz, Vollmer insisted that relations with NATO remained good, even after the US military criticized the request for the attack.
The Afghan Foreign Minister, Rangin Spanta, also defended Colonel Klein and the German armed forces. He said protecting civilians should have priority during military actions, but “this is war, and unfortunately things like this can happen.”
ISAF has acknowledged that civilians, who had gathered around the trucks to siphon off fuel, were killed and injured in the airstrike.
No ISAF, NATO, or German officials have provided any figures, but local Afghan sources have said at least 54 people died in the attack, including civilians and Taliban militants.
NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, has pledged a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the airstrike.
The German government, so far, has reacted cautiously to reports on the attack. Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “deep regrets” for the loss of civilian lives, but said she would not accept any “premature judgments.”
The bombing has revived debate within Germany on the necessity of the country’s armed forces mission in Afghanistan less than three weeks before the September 27 general election.