NATO admits Afghan airstrike killed civilians

Feeding the controversy, the Taliban joined Western nations in calling for an investigation into the Sept. 4 attack in Kunduz Province.

A statement issued by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan Tuesday said for the first time that civilians were killed and injured in a controversial American airstrike called in by German troops in Kunduz Province on Sept. 4. NATO-led forces had previously stopped short of admitting civilian deaths, saying only that they believed civilians had been harmed.

The airstrike has unleashed outrage in Afghanistan and Europe. The Taliban, meanwhile, have fed the controversy by issuing their own call for an investigation according to international law.

The revelation coincides with deepening allegations of fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential elections, creating a diplomatic storm for the US and its allies.

The airstrike incident began last Friday, when “NATO planes bombed two fuel trucks that had been hijacked by Taliban fighters," as the Christian Science Monitor reported. “The Taliban-hijacked trucks, which the militants claimed carried fuel from Tajikistan to supply NATO in Kabul, reportedly got stuck in mud – attracting residents looking to carry home some of the fuel. As many 70 civilians are believe to have been killed, according to an Afghan human rights group.

German soldiers posted in Kunduz called in the strike, but insist they acted within the rules of engagement. But they have been heavily criticized for their handling of the attack, including in this posting on Registan, a blog about Central Asia:

[N]ot only did the German commander call in an air strike based on uncertain aerial surveillance and a single HUMINT source, he then couldn’t be bothered to go investigate the bombing site a few miles up the road for almost a day. The German commander also felt—wrongly, as it were—that to travel to either the site or the hospital where many survivors of the bombing were recovering was too dangerous.

So much criticism has mounted in Germany that Chancellor Angela Merkel will “go before parliament on Tuesday to explain the government's Afghanistan strategy,” reports Reuters, adding that "the strike was the most deadly operation involving German troops since World War Two and was condemned by several European foreign ministers at the weekend."

The Taliban issued their own statement via email on Monday, claiming that 79 people were killed and demanding an inquiry under international law. It highlights that the Taliban are as capable of waging a public relations war as much as a real one, reports Agence France-Presse.

"Without any doubt a big crime... has been committed in Kunduz province and civilians have been targeted," said the statement.

"International law, the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions are very clear on such crimes," the Taliban said.
"If the United Nations, Amnesty International and human rights organisations ... really recognize human rights or hold them important, then the truth and the lies will be known in this affair," the document added.

The controversy comes as election officials in Afghanistan on Sunday rejected 200,000 ballots as fraudulent, reports Britain’s Guardian newspaper:

The Independent Electoral Commission previously said that results from 447 polling stations had been thrown out. That amounts to about 200,000 votes, it said today.
Daoud Ali Najafi, the commission's chief electoral officer, explained: "The numbers were suspicious and the results did not match with the reconciliation form [used to double-check results]."

The BBC adds that fraud claims have become so rampant that the United Nations-backed Afghan electoral complaints’ commission “has ordered a number of audits and recounts.” It added:

The American ambassador and a senior UN envoy met President Hamid Karzai on Monday night to discuss their concerns.
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