Relatives of Kunduz airstrike victims seek reparations | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.11.2009
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Relatives of Kunduz airstrike victims seek reparations

A class-action suit is being brought against the German government. The suit will seek compensation for the families of people killed in a controversial airstrike in Afghanistan.

A German flag waves behind an armored vehicle in Afghanistan

Germany has some 4500 troops deployed in Afghanistan

Relatives of those killed in an airstrike near Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan are seeking compensation from the German government. On Saturday, Karim Popal, a lawyer acting on the behalf of 78 family members of the victims, told the Weser-Kurier newspaper that he was preparing a class-action suit against the government.

The airstrike had been called in on the location of two fuel tanker trucks that had been hijacked by the Taliban. Up to 142 people were killed in the bombardment, including civilians. The commander who called in the strike, Colonel Georg Klein, has cited the imminent threat of the tankers to the nearby German military base as justification for the bombardment.

A later NATO report criticized the German commander for overstepping his authority.

Germany has some 4,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, the third-largest number of troops in the NATO contingent. Based near the northern city of Kunduz, soldiers have had to strike back against an increasingly fierce campaign by Taliban insurgents.

Seeking damages

Popal said he had recently visited Afghanistan to gather and prepare material for his case. He told the Weser Kurier that he hopes to settle with the government out of court with payment to the families. If no settlement is reached, Popal said, he would seek compensation for "the flawed and grossly negligent actions of the German forces."

Theodor zu Guttenberg, leaves a Bundeswehr plane together with unidentified German soldiers at his arrival in Kabul

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has defended the actions of September 4

Federal prosecutors in Germany are still trying to ascertain if the airstrike is defendable under the law of war or if Colonel Klein is vulnerable to civilian prosecution.

New Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg recently defended the actions of Colonel Klein.

"We can't have our soldiers hampered by legal doubts, especially when they are forced to make decisions under extreme time pressure," Guttenberg said, calling the airstrike "militarily appropriate."

Afghan criticism

In Kunduz, the governor of the province, Mohammed Omar told the news magazine Der Spiegel that German military operations were too often hampered by hesitation and a general lack of action.

"When we call for assistance in a firefight, they often have to request an order from the headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif. And then they come too late," Omar said.

"If the Germans don't want to do the work, to be honest it would be better if they left our province," Omar said.

On Friday, zu Guttenberg met with US secretary of defense Robert Gates.

"I told him that the German commitment regarding Afghanistan is firm," zu Guttenberg told journalists after talks in Washington.

Germany's cabinet has announced plans to extend the mandate for the country's participation in the international military mission ISAF for another year in December.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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