It's been a difficult week for NATO troops in Afghanistan. A roadside bomb in the eastern part of the country killed three allied soldiers on Thursday, and although NATO has so far declined to identify the victims, Polish media reports that the soldiers were from Poland. The blast comes just two days after Taliban fighters killed 10 French troops just east of the capital Kabul, part of a rising wave of insurgent attacks.
German soldiers, too, have been involved in the recent fighting. According to a report in the Rheinische Post on Thursday, a German patrol was attacked late on Tuesday night not far from the base in Faisabad. The soldiers on the patrol, none of whom were injured, returned fire and killed one person. The event is noteworthy because it marks the first time in the six-year operation that the German army has killed someone there.
The person they killed, though, may not have been from the Taliban at all. According to a Wednesday report in the German news agency dpa, the victim may have been an unarmed shepherd. The agency cites the police chief from the province of Badachshan, Agha Noor Keentoz, as saying that the man merely wanted to signal the patrol away from his herd of sheep. The German army, the Bundeswehr, is investigating the incident together with state prosecutors.
German soldiers operate in Afghanistan under strict rules of engagement that limit their ability to take on the Taliban. If soldiers are not being attacked or if an attack isn't imminent, German troops are not allowed to make use of their firearms. In May, for example, elite German soldiers from the KSK spent weeks tracking a high-ranking Taliban leader. They had several chances to shoot the man, but they tried to capture him instead. He escaped.
Other NATO allies in Afghanistan have long criticized the German government for the role played by the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan. The German troops are based in northern Afghanistan, an area which, compared to the violent south, is relatively quiet. Berlin has consistently refused to send German soldiers to more dangerous regions because government leaders say they have a role to play in reconstructing the north.
But violence has been rising in Afghanistan recently. Earlier this week, dozens of Taliban fighters attempted to storm Salerno, the largest US base in eastern Afghanistan. US troops were able to turn back the attack. It came just weeks after a large Taliban attack on a US base in Kunar province killed nine Americans on July 13.
Violence is up 50 percent this year compared with 2007, according to a recent report in the AFP. Attacks on German troops have likewise been increasing.