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Germany

Merkel faces questioning over Kunduz airstrike

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier face questions on a military airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan in September 2009.

Merkel in Kunduz with troops

Merkel is expected to explain her government's response

For over a year a parliamentary inquiry has been investigating the events surrounding the German-ordered airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan which killed more than 100 people and injured 11 in September 2009. This Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing the inquiry's questioning.

Members of the opposition have criticized Merkel's authority and competency in the matter.

"We want to know if Merkel thinks the attack was appropriate and if not, why not," said defense expert Rainer Arnold from the SPD party.

The Green party are keen to know why it took so long to confirm there were civilian deaths when Merkel was already aware of this possibility.

"It's about learning from this catastrophe and gathering information," said the Green party's defense expert Omid Nouripour.

All soldiers and politicians who participated in the decisions surrounding the deadly strike - including current Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg - have been questioned for hours, and slowly an overall picture of events is being rebuilt.

What happened?

On September 3, 2009, the Taliban hijacked two fuel trucks that were transporting fuel to US troops in Afghanistan. The rebels set themselves up in a sandbank in the Kunduz River and put out a call to those in neighboring villages to help.

Colonel Georg Klein

A criminal investigation against Colonel Klein was dropped

An Afghan informant reported this back to NATO command, relaying information that there were only Taliban members on board the trucks, including high-ranking Taliban leaders.

NATO commander Colonel Georg Klein then ordered that two US Air Force jets bomb the trucks in the night. Klein did not consult his military superiors before the attack, stating there was no time due to fear of an imminent attack on a nearby army camp.

The controversy

Then Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung initially asserted that only "terrorist Taliban" had been killed in the attack - a claim which was soon proved to be unfounded.

Among the victims were several civilians, many from the surrounding villages who were tapping the tankers for the fuel.

An initial report by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) said the attack killed or injured up to 142 people.

Franz Josef Jung

Franz Josef Jung was forced to resign as defense minister

Some argue the army had no mandate for initiating the airstrike as there was no "direct contact with the enemy," for example no firefight with the Taliban. Also, Klein reportedly based his decision solely on the testimony of a single Afghan informant.

The fallout

In a government statement, Merkel said she "deeply regretted all those innocent people who were injured or killed as a result of Germany's actions."

Over a year later, slowly the truth surrounding the airstrike is coming to light. Defense Minister Jung was forced to resign. His successor Guttenberg fired two senior employees who he felt had not informed him well enough. He was also forced to do a public U-turn, changing his assessment of the strike from "appropriate" to "inappropriate."

A criminal investigation against Klein was dropped and after a long struggle for compensation the families of the Afghan victims were each awarded $5,000 (3,800 euros).

Merkel announced a full inquiry and said "the army will help with all available forces" and that "nothing will be glossed over."

Now Merkel has to explain to the committee why the government did not properly inform the public and parliament. The poor crisis management of the chancellor and the defense department will come under particular scrutiny.

Author: Nina Werkhäuser / cb
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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