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US pilot opposed German Afghan attack orders

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US pilot opposed German Afghan attack orders
Photo: DPA
10:07 CET+01:00
The US fighter pilots called in by German commanders in Afghanistan for a controversial air strike on two fuel tankers that left many civilians dead questioned their orders several times before attacking.

The operation in September not only killed scores of Afghans, but also severely dented the reputation of the German military, cost the jobs of those in charge at the time and will be subjected to a full parliamentary investigation.

Now extracts from the Nato report published by Der Spiegel suggest the Germans overrode objections from the US pilots they were commanding, to insist the strike take place.

Radio communication between the F-15 pilot, with the call sign ‘Dude', and the German officer issuing orders show that the Americans wanted to carry out not just one or two low flying passes as warnings but five.

But Colonel Georg Klein and his forward air controller with the call sign ‘Red Baron', commanding the air strike from the German base, overruled the ‘Dude' and ordered an attack.

“F-15 recommended a show of force five times throughout the mission in order to disperse the people,” the report says. But the ‘Red Baron' replied, “Negative. The target should be attacked immediately.”

Wing commander Lance ‘Gipper' Bunch, commander of the 335th Fighter Squadron Unit which supplied the F-15, also told investigators that there was disagreement with the Germans over how many bombs should be dropped on the two tankers.

He said the ‘Red Baron' had called for six bombs, but that the Americans had refused.

“The crew told him this was not going to happen,” said Bunch. Two bombs were all that were necessary, he said.

The operation, which German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has admitted in parliament was militarily inappropriate, was initially defended by his predecessor Franz Josef Jung.

Jung and Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan have since resigned amid revelations the Defence Ministry had withheld information about the air strike called by Col. Klein to destroy the tankers which had been hijacked by the Taliban.

The fear was that they could be used to attack a nearby German base, but it seems they had become stuck in a river bed and the Taliban were handing the fuel out to local villagers when the Nato bombers struck.

Volker Kauder, chair of the Christian Democratic parliamentary group, said he will call then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to answer the questions of the parliamentary investigative committee.

Both the conservatives and Steinmeier's centre-left Social Democratic Party were in government when the strike took place in September.

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