The rebels hijacked two fuel trucks intended for the Bundeswehr around 1:50 am near Kunduz. One of the drivers told broadcaster BBC that the Taliban fighters had beheaded two of his colleagues in the attack.
The military reported that the Taliban planned to take the fuel to the district of Char Darah to use, but German soldiers ordered a bombing raid by NATO fighter jets on the hijackers around 2:30 am as they struggled to cross the Kunduz River some six kilometres from a Bundeswehr camp. The subsequent explosion of both tanker trucks left at least 50 Taliban fighters dead, Germany said. But locals say many of the dead were civilians.
While the German Defence Ministry’s official statement said that no civilians were killed during combat, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters that some 90 people were killed, including many civilians.
“Innocent civilians should not be wounded or killed in military operations,” he said, adding that he deeply regretted the situation.
The BBC reported that civilians died because they were trying to siphon fuel from the tanks when the fighting began, but locals said they had come out of their homes simply to investigate the loud noise from the trucks.
“The problem is that all of these people near the tanker trucks were so badly burned it will be impossible to identify them,” Kunduz province governor Mohammed Omar said.
No German soldiers were injured in the fight, the Bundeswehr said.
The United Nations International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was investigating the incident on Friday.
“The ISAF regrets every unnecessary loss of human life and is deeply concerned over the suffering that this mission could have caused our Afghan friends,” spokesperson Eric Tremblay said.
A Defence Ministry spokesperson said the bombing mission would not have been ordered if civilians were known to be present.
“If civilians were there an air raid would not be allowed,” he said, adding that protecting civilians was the Bundeswehr’s first priority.
The German commander who made the order was a “particularly level-headed officer who is anything but a gambler,” he added.
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung declined to comment on the event until more information becomes available.
Some 4,400 German troops are serving in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).