Photo Gallery: The Kunduz Victims


Kunduz Bombing Victim 'The Germans Lied to All of Us'

A year ago, Afghan farmer Nur Jan was severely wounded while siphoning off gasoline from a tanker truck hijacked by the Taliban. The German-ordered air strike at the Kunduz River robbed him of his ability to work and he says the compensation on offer won't even cover his medical bills.

Nur Jan, an Afghan farmer, says he would rather be dead than have to continue living this way. The man with the sunken cheeks looks down at his body. There is only a stump left of his right arm below the elbow, a stump that he can hardly move anymore. A disability is regarded as something to be ashamed of in Afghanistan, and Nur Jan keeps his hidden under his dirty robe. He says that now he is no longer a man, but only "half a person." He says that he cannot feed his wife and their four children, that he is only in the way and is ashamed to be a cripple.

Nur Jan almost died a year ago, on Sept. 4, 2009, about an hour-and-a-half after midnight. He ran from his village, Omar Khel, to the Kunduz River holding a plastic canister. It was shortly after the traditional midnight feast during the fasting month of Ramadan, and the neighbors had called to Nur Jan to come out of his house. Two tanker trucks were stuck in the gravel and mud on a sandbar in the river. A large group of villagers, about a hundred people, had already run to the river to siphon off gasoline from the trucks.

Nur Jan's mouth barely moves when he talks about that September night almost a year ago. All he remembers is the explosion. Suddenly there was a flash of light that looked like lightning, and then everything went up in flames. When Nur Jan woke up the next day, he was in the hospital in Kunduz. His hand had been amputated in an improvised operation, his leg was severely burned and he was in great pain. Someone said something about two bombs that had been dropped by US fighter jets. Even today, Nur Jan knows little more about that night on the Kunduz River.

A Gift from the Bundeswehr

Nur Jan doesn't know exactly how old he is. According to his voting card, a tattered piece of paper in a plastic sleeve, which he always carries with him, he was born in 1982, which seems about right. The sleeve also contains his few precious belongings, a small amount of money and, since the beginning of Ramadan, a modern-looking blue plastic photo I.D. card. His name is printed on the card in capital letters, and above it is an eight-digit number. But Nur Jan cannot read any of the information on the card.

The blue card is a gift of sorts from the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr. It corresponds to an account with the Kabul Bank, and is intended as a German gesture of humanity toward the victims of Kunduz. Shortly before the anniversary of the German-ordered bombing, the bank cards were distributed as a way of providing compensation  to the many civilians who were gathered around the trucks when the bombs fell. The Bundeswehr had hoped to placate the victims by paying $5,000 (€3,940) to each of the families of the 91 dead and 11 injured.

But Nur Jan and many of the other victims haven't received this gesture of atonement yet. Perhaps this is because the Bundeswehr itself has played almost no role in processing the payments. When the human rights organization AIHRC compiled the compensation list with the victims in Kunduz, it based its information primarily on the research of Christoph Reuter, a journalist with the German magazine Stern. The Bundeswehr never conducted its own research and AIHRC also distributed the Kabul Bank account cards. The only Bundeswehr officers the victims ever saw were later on television, when Colonel Reinhardt Zudrop, the commander of the German camp in Kunduz, appeared at a televised press conference to announce the aid for the victims' families. Finally, months after receiving orders from the defense minister, the colonel was closing the case for the Bundeswehr once and for all.

Compensation and Culpability

Farmer Nur Jan comprehends little of the political background of the bombing. Like most of the families of the victims, he never understood what exactly happened in the dispute over possible compensation for him and the other villagers. They occasionally took a taxi from their villages to the Hotel Kunduz or the German-run Lapis Lazuli Guesthouse in Kunduz, after receiving calls from vistors from Germany. First there was Karim Popal, an Afghan-born German attorney who had promised the villagers a windfall, millions in compensation from the German government. Then came the German politicians. Everyone talked of compensation and of Germany's culpability, and everyone promised money. But then they disappeared again.

And yet nothing happened for 11 months. Nur Jan turns around the blue card from Kabul Bank with the fingers of his left hand. "In fact, the Germans lied to all of us," he says quietly. Nur Jan needed money quickly after the bombing, not announcements and pledges of support. Only a day after that Sept. 4, he had to travel to a hospital in Pakistan for treatment after doctors in Kunduz told him that they could no longer help him. He borrowed money, several thousand dollars, from relatives. The blood transfusion for his shoulder operation alone cost him $800 (€630). He estimates that he had to pay well over $5,000 for all of the treatment, and he is still $1,000 in debt.

To this day, Nur Jan hasn't understood many details about the German compensation package, which was supposed to be implemented without a lot of red tape. Once again, he is sitting on a worn brown sofa at the Hotel Kunduz. Sitting next to him are Abdul Rafa and his son Latif from Yaqob Bai, another small village near the river. Nur Jan is tired. Fasting during Ramadan exhausts him. Nevertheless, he quickly talks himself into a rage. Latif, 16, was only wounded by a few pieces of shrapnel when the bombs exploded on Sept. 4, and his wounds, says Nur Jan, healed long ago. Nevertheless, his father received the same compensation as Nur Jan: $5,000.

'I Would Rather Die as a Suicide Bomber'

"What sort of justice is this?" Nur Jan asks. "We took what was available," says Abdul Rafa. "We didn't make the rules."

The Germans' meticulous compensation procedures, though conceived with good intentions in mind, have in fact done nothing but confuse many villagers. Nur Jan and other victims are also still mystified by the Bundeswehr's carefully conceived system for distributing the money. Instead of each family receiving $5,000 for each individual killed, a complicated distribution list was prepared, almost as if the incident had occurred in Germany. If a family's married son was killed, the money was paid to his wife's family, not the father of the deceased. Perhaps this is fair, says Abdul Rafa, but it has already triggered disputes in the villages. What should he tell families, he asks, who lost three sons and were paid nothing, whereas the father of a slightly injured victim only a few farms down the road received $5,000 from the Germans?

For Nur Jan, the Kunduz case is far from resolved. He says he is unwilling to settle for the $5,000. He tried to contact the Bundeswehr several times in recent months. When he finally did speak to a German officer in the AIHRC office, he managed to convince him to have his shoulder, which was poorly operated on in Pakistan, reexamined at the German camp. If this doesn't happen, he says, he sees only one option for himself. "Instead of continuing to live as a cripple," he says threateningly, "I would rather die as a suicide bomber."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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