German court rejects compensation claim over Afghan air strike deaths

BONN Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:10am EST

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BONN (Reuters) - A German court on Wednesday threw out a compensation claim by relatives of the scores of civilians killed in a 2009 German-ordered NATO attack in Afghanistan, ruling that the commander who ordered the strike did not act negligently.

The commander, Georg Klein, had called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks north of Kunduz city, which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed in the strike. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians died.

"The chamber is convinced ... that the then commander of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunduz did not act in dereliction of his duty. In ordering the strike he did not violate the norms of international law to protect the civilian population," the Bonn regional court said in a statement.

"He correctly identified the fuel tankers as a military objects. Because of the fuel they carry, they are useful for the Taliban's logistics and appropriate for a possible attack," the statement added.

The high death toll from the attack sent shockwaves across Germany and ultimately forced its then defense minister to step down over accusations he covered up the number of civilian casualties in the weeks leading up to the 2009 federal election.

The court said it believed the German commander had made sufficient checks, asking contacts at the scene seven times whether there were civilians there and each time hearing that there were not.

The infra-red camera images available to him from the U.S. jet could also not detect a civilian presence, the court said, as people appeared only as dots leaving it impossible to tell whether they were armed or if they were children.

Relatives, who had sought damages from the German government, protested against the decision outside the court.

The ruling came on the same day as a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of German troops near the international airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but there were no reports of casualties.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has around 80,000 troops in Afghanistan, the majority American.

NATO is winding down combat operations, handing responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents to the Afghans, before most foreign combat forces pull out by the end of 2014.

Civilian casualties have continued to cause tensions between Afghan authorities and international backers.

(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Andrew Roche)

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