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Afghan men walk at the site of an airstrike in Madrasa village in northern city of Kunduz on September 4, 2009
The German-ordered airstrike in 2009 killed over 100 people - including childrenImage: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

German probe to Kunduz airstrike was adequate, rules court

February 16, 2021

Scores of Afghan civilians were killed in 2009 when a German commander ordered a NATO airstrike on two stolen fuel tankers. German courts have repeatedly rejected bids by the victims' families to seek damages.


German courts and prosecutors thoroughly investigated  a 2009 NATO bombing in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday.

The decision comes after years of battles in German courts, who have ruled that the German officer behind the strike did not act improperly.

What did the court rule?

The case was brought to the ECHR by an Afghan man, Abdul Hanan, who lost two children in the airstrike. The man argued that Germany violated his son's right to life, as well as his right to file damages.

The Strasbourg-based court found there was "no violation" of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They added that German authorities "complied" with the requirements "of an effective investigation" under the rights charter.

In their decision, the ECHR said they "had no reason to doubt" the findings of German prosecutors and the ruling of Germany's Constitutional Court that additional witnesses were not needed in the case.

Furthermore, the court found that the parliamentary inquiry into the airstrike "ensured a high level of public scrutiny in the case."

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

What happened in the bombing?

The predawn strike took place on September 4, 2009 in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, killing around 100 people.

Two stolen fuel tankers had been sighted around 7 kilometers from a German military base, stuck on a river sandbank.

Afghan civilians, including children, had surrounded the tankers with hopes of siphoning some of the fuel.

A German commander ordered American jets to destroy the trucks, resulting in a large blast. Although it was initially reported that many of those killed were Taliban fighters, it was later revealed that most of the dead were civilians.

Der deutsche Oberst Georg Klein
German prosecutors dropped an investigation into commander Georg Klein in 2010Image: dapd

What was Germany's role?

German Colonel Georg Klein was in charge of the military base at the time. He made the call to US troops to carry out the strike.

He worried that the fuel tankers could be used by Taliban militants as mobile bombs.

According to prosecutors, Klein made several calls to an informant on the ground to verify that no civilians had been present.

The lawyers for the Afghan father who brought the case before the ECHR have argued that Klein issued a series of "binding instructions" for the airstrike without UN oversight.

The German government's lawyer had argued the strike was carried out on behalf of the United Nations and did not fall under German jurisdiction.

What rulings have there been so far?

German prosecutors carried out a probe into Klein's actions under German criminal law, but discontinued investigations in 2010.

They said that the time that Klein did not act with an intent to harm civilians and that the strike was justified under international law.

Family members of the victims have tried over the years to seek damages in German courts, which have repeatedly rejected their cases. 

In December, Germany's constitutional court ruled the country was not liable over the strike. 

rs/rt (dpa, Reuters)

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