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Afghanistan airstrike haunts Germany, 10 years on

September 4, 2019
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FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 file photo Afghan soldiers and police inspect the site where villagers reportedly died when American jets bombed fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban, outside Kunduz, Afghanistan. The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan visited the place as the alliance began an investigation into the airstrike that killed up to 70 people. Lawyers acting on behalf of relatives who lost family members say they are still trying to get adequate compensation for their clients and hope to hold the German commander who ordered the Sept. 4, 2009, air strike criminally responsible. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, file)
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FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 file photo Afghan soldiers and police inspect the site where villagers reportedly died when American jets bombed fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban, outside Kunduz, Afghanistan. The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan visited the place as the alliance began an investigation into the airstrike that killed up to 70 people. Lawyers acting on behalf of relatives who lost family members say they are still trying to get adequate compensation for their clients and hope to hold the German commander who ordered the Sept. 4, 2009, air strike criminally responsible. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, file)

BERLIN (AP) — Lawyers for survivors of a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan said Wednesday they are still seeking adequate compensation for their clients a decade later and the criminal prosecution of the German officer who ordered the bombing.

Lawyer Karim Popal accused Germany of shirking its responsibility to the relatives and victims of the airstrike in the northern city of Kunduz on Sept. 4, 2009.

Scores of people died when U.S. Air Force jets bombed two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban. The strike was ordered by the commander of the German base in Kunduz, Georg Klein, who feared insurgents could use the trucks to carry out attacks.

Contrary to the intelligence Klein based his decision on, most of those swarming the trucks were local civilians invited by the Taliban to siphon fuel from the vehicles after they had become stuck in a riverbed.

Popal said he hoped the European Court of Human Rights will hear the case later this year after German authorities refused to prosecute Klein, who has since been promoted to the rank of brigadier general. The case was brought on behalf of Abdul Hanan, an Afghan man who lost two sons in the airstrike.

A separate civil case is pending before Germany’s Constitutional Court, seeking to establish that German authorities have liability for events that took place outside the country.

Ahead of Wednesday’s 10-year anniversary of the event, Popal said the $5,000 — labeled as humanitarian aid, not compensation — that Germany has given each family of victims isn’t enough.

“The dead haven’t been forgotten in Afghanistan,” Popal said.

The incident is remembered as a dark day in Germany’s post-WWII military history, too. The country’s defense minister at the time, Franz Josef Jung, initially insisted that all those killed in the airstrike were insurgents.

The news that many, if not all, were civilians, including children, dispelled the notion that Germany could wage a ‘clean war’ and sapped public support for the mission in Afghanistan.

Lack of visible progress on the ground in the area where German troops operate has further undermined the case for sending soldiers Afghanistan. Much of the countryside around Kunduz is now controlled by Taliban, and Germany has cut its troop numbers in Afghanistan from about 4,200 in 2009 to 1,300.

Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Kunduz, said at a memorial ceremony Wednesday for the victims of a recent Taliban attack in Kunduz city would also remember those whose lives were lost in the past.

“Prayers will be offered for all,” he said.

Christine Buchholz, a lawmaker for Germany’s opposition Left party, expressed anger at what she described as the government’s “indifference” to the case, including the question of how many people were killed in Kunduz 10 years ago. Estimates range from 90 to almost 150.

“In my view it’s more than cynical how the survivors are treated,” said Buchholz. “We demand that the German government finally meets its responsibilities.”

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined immediate comment on the anniversary Wednesday.

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Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.

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