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Klein tells inquiry he ordered Kunduz air strike in a rush

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Klein tells inquiry he ordered Kunduz air strike in a rush
Photo: DPA
13:14 CET+01:00
German Bundeswehr Colonel Georg Klein has justified ordering a deadly bombardment near Kunduz in Afghanistan by telling a parliamentary inquiry he was in a hurry, a media report said on Wednesday.

Klein, who commanded the controversial air strike that killed more than 140 Afghans in September 2009, has appeared before a committee to defend his actions, explaining that he didn’t know how long US fighter planes would be available to complete the mission, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

At 1:50 am when he made the order to take out the two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban the operational picture was “clear,” he reportedly told a closed committee session on February 10.

The colonel also reportedly told the committee he had been sure the tankers posed an acute threat to his soldiers and Afghan forces in the area. But the air support provided by the F-15 jets could have been called to another mission at any moment, and there was no alternative due to a shortage of ground troops, he said.

Klein also assumed full responsibility for the bombardment as a solider and a Christian during the hearing and said he went to the base chapel to pray after approving the attack, the paper reported.

He assured the committee that he ordered the strike believing that the trucks were surrounded by Taliban fighters, and would not have done so if he’d known there were civilians nearby.

The parliamentary inquiry is scheduled to continue hearings over the controversial incident on Thursday with a captain and staff sergeant who were present that night, the paper said.

The committee hopes to clarify how dozens of civilians could have been killed and whether Klein adhered to proper rules of engagement.

But Klein isn’t the only one under pressure by the committee. They are also investigating incidents surrounding a possible cover-up by the Defence Ministry. Former Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, who was in office when the controversial air strike occurred, resigned from his new position as labour minister over the allegations that he hid evidence that civilians had been killed ahead of federal elections.

Ex-Bundeswehr Chief-of-Staff General Wolfgang Schneiderhan and another senior Defence Ministry official also stepped down over the affair.

Meanwhile new Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who took his post in late October 2009, has vowed a thorough investigation into the accusations that his predecessors withheld information about the bombardment. But further revelations put Guttenberg under increasing political pressure for his initial assessment of the incident.

Media reports have revealed that while the Guttenberg has said he did not have access to information seen by his predecessor Jung when he declared the bombardment “militarily appropriate,” he in fact had a report by the International Red Cross that deemed the air strike to be against international law and responsible for the deaths of at least 74 civilians.

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