Reaction to Deadly Air Strike: Afghan Provincial Governor Praises German Army

By Ulrike Demmer and Shoib Najafizada in Kabul

The German army has been inundated with international criticism for ordering an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers in Afghanistan. But the governor of Kunduz province where the attack happened has now praised the German forces. "They made the right decision at the right time," Mohammed Omar told SPIEGEL.

Afghan police inspect one of the ruined fuel tankers in Kunduz. Zoom
REUTERS

Afghan police inspect one of the ruined fuel tankers in Kunduz.

The governor of the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, Mohammed Omar, praised the German army on Monday for ordering an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers last Friday despite strong international criticism of the attack which is believed to have killed civilians as well as Taliban fighters.

Omar told SPIEGEL that the German commander who ordered the strike, Colonel Georg Klein, "made the right decision at the right time and acted in a very level-headed way."

German soldiers had always been criticized in the past for not taking robust enough action, he said. "They either flee back to their camp or they sit around crying," said Omar. The population had gotten the impression that the Germans were working together with the Taliban, he added. Now a gang of criminals had been caught in the act, he said.

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Omar visited the German military base in Kunduz on Monday. He said he didn't know how many civilians were killed in the air strike. "But the Germans have the support of the population. We didn't receive any of the complaints one usually gets in cases where civilians are killed."

Eyewitnesses said there were 60 armed Taliban on the scene along with 15 to 20 other people. "But at half past two at night, no normal civilians would dare to go out in this area, which is more than four kilometers from the nearest village," said Omar.

Anyone in the vicinity of the fuel tankers must have been criminal or a supporter of the Taliban, he said. The US criticism of the attack appeared to be a gut reaction, he added. "The Americans probably didn't eat well and had bad dreams."

Disputed Casualty Figures

It remains unclear how many people were killed in the strike. The German army said a total of 56 Taliban insurgents were killed but there is no "consolidated information" about civilian casualties, German Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said on Monday.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that a NATO fact-finding team estimated that 125 people were killed, at least two dozen of whom were not insurgents.

Some eyewitnesses reported seeing more than 100 dead civilians at the site. Ghulam Mahyodin, a man who lives in Char Dara province, said his son had been among a group of people from a nearby village trying to siphon oil from the tankers. He said the Taliban had already left the area. "My son burned to death," said Mahyodin. "I expect the government to conduct a serious investigation."

One villager told SPIEGEL ONLINE by telephone that she had heard noises coming from the river at around two o'clock in the morning. Her husband and son had gone there to see what was going on. "They weren't Taliban, they just wanted to know what was going on," she said.

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