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Did Merkel know?

March 25, 2010

An e-mail was sent to Angela Merkel's office just hours after the German-ordered bombing of two oil tankers in Afghanistan, informing the chancellor's staff of 50 to 100 civilian casualties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel's office reportedly knew of civilian deaths almost immediatelyImage: picture-alliance/Sven Simon

Chancellor Angela Merkel's office reportedly knew that civilians had been killed in a German-ordered airstrike in Afghanistan just hours after the bombing. Newsweekly Der Spiegel reported Thursday that the German foreign intelligence service (BND) sent an e-mail describing the attack and the possible numbers killed.

"Many civilians were killed (numbers vary between 50 and 100)," the e-mail read.

A government spokesman described the e-mail as an "unconfirmed preliminary report." He said the e-mail has already been handed over, along with other related documents, to the parliamentary inquiry, and that all of these documents confirm Merkel's stance that civilian casualties were never ruled out.

Who knew what when?

While Merkel never claimed that civilians were not killed, it was days before she first spoke to parliament about the airstrike.

An Afghan soldier in front of the burned-out tanker after the airstrike
The civilian deaths and the government's response have stirred controvery in GermanyImage: AP

Much of the parliamentary inquiry is focused on who knew what about the bombing and when they knew it. Franz-Josef Jung, defense minister at the time of the airstrike, stepped down in November over an alleged cover-up of civilian deaths. He had originally said that no civilians had been killed.

A NATO report ultimately found that 142 civilians were killed in the bombing of the two oil tankers, which had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents but then got stuck crossing a river bed. The strike was ordered by a German colonel and carried out by NATO aircraft. The BND e-mail explained the high number of civilian casualties by saying that Afghan citizens had taken the "opportunity" to siphon off fuel for their own use.

Testifying to the parliamentary inquiry on Thursday, Jung once again denied that he had suppressed evidence.

The opposition in parliament has reserved the right to call Merkel as a witness in the inquiry, although no date has been set.

Editor: Ben Knight