Germany asks NATO allies to stay silent on Afghanistan airstrike | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.09.2009

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Germany asks NATO allies to stay silent on Afghanistan airstrike

Germany on Friday launched diplomatic protests to stop fellow NATO nations from criticizing a controversial airstrike called by the German army in Afghanistan last week that allegedly killed dozens of civilians.

A German soldier near Kunduz in Afghanistan

The airstrike has sparked a debate about German operations in Afghanistan

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry, Jens Ploetner, said on Friday in Berlin that German ambassadors in important NATO and EU member states had launched diplomatic protests with the respective governments of those countries.

Ploetner said the German ambassadors had requested governments to refrain from criticizing the controversial airstrike until a formal NATO investigation into the incident is completed. Ploetner said Germany expected its partners to be fair.

Paris criticizes German decision

The unusual move comes two days after German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that a review from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had found that German Colonel Georg Klein had overstepped his command in ordering the attack last week.

One of two burnt fuel tankers, near Kunduz, Afghanistan

The site of the strike in Kunduz

Authorities in Afghanistan say dozens of civilians were among the more than 50 killed and wounded after Klein called in NATO air support to destroy two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban near the Afghan city of Kunduz.

Berlin at first contended that only Islamist insurgents had been killed in the air strike carried out by a US fighter jet. But ISAF said later there had been an unspecified number of civilian victims.

German daily Financial Times Deutschland on Friday said Berlin's decision to launch diplomatic protests to rein in international criticism of the attack was not well-received in Paris.

“What should a minister say if such an attack kills 80 and there are civilians among them? Nothing?” an unnamed diplomat told the paper.

Germany to send own investigation team

On Friday, the German government also confirmed reports that it would send its own investigation team to "accompany" the NATO probe into the airstrike.

A spokesman for the German defense ministry, Thomas Raabe, said the German team's job would involve gathering facts about the incident. He rejected speculation that the team would try to correct NATO's review of what actually happened in Kunduz.

"You don't need to correct anything when there's nothing to be corrected," Raabe said at a press conference.

Earlier this week, the defense ministry said it would not comment on the airstrike until the result of a formal investigation ordered by top commander US General Stanley McChrystal is released.

Merkel hits out at international criticism

The strike, the most deadly operation involving German troops since World War Two, has sparked criticism from some NATO allies and domestic lawmakers in recent days.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has described the strike as a "big mistake," while Afghan President Hamid Karzai blasted the German commander's call in an interview with French daily Le Figaro.

The incident has also raised the pressure on Germany and catapulted the country's operations in Afghanistan into the campaign for the federal election on Sept. 27.

In a speech in parliament this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she regretted any loss of innocent lives and promised a full report about Friday's air strike.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel has lashed out at international criticism of the airstrike

But the chancellor also rejected "premature judgments" of the airstrike and hit out at international criticism of the attack before investigations are completed.

"I won't tolerate that either here at home or abroad," she said.

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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