World News

Germany must pay Afghan victims of NATO raid: Lawyer

KABUL (Reuters) - The victims of a German-ordered NATO raid in northern Afghanistan that killed scores of civilians must be compensated for the rest of their lives by the German government, their lawyer said on Wednesday.

A German Bundeswehr army soldier of the Bravo platoon, 4th company, 391 mechanised infantry battalion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stands next to Afghans during a bridge reconstruction operation in Chahar Dara in the outskirts of Kunduz December 14, 2009. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

On September 4, a U.S. fighter jet called in by German troops struck two fuel trucks that NATO said at the time had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

Germany’s defense minister at the time has since stepped down because of the incident, which the Afghan government said killed 99 people including 30 civilians. Independent rights groups estimate between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

Karim Popal, an Afghan-born German lawyer from Bremen who has taken on the case of 165 Afghans in Kunduz and who lost relatives in the airstrike, said what they needed was not money, but a guarantee from the German government that it would build the homes, schools and clinics they need to continue their lives.

“In Kunduz, a large number of young people have lost fathers and whole families. There are a large number of widows now. It is the responsibility of the German government to help them,” Popal told Reuters.

German courts, according to Popal, are prepared to work with him and his team in order to avoid the case going to trial, but the government’s latest offer of compensation was inadequate.

“They suggested 3 million euros ($4.36 million), but we have not accepted this because this is not just a matter of money, but about the livelihoods of these people and the rest of their lives.”

Popal said a team of six lawyers, including two women, went to Kunduz for a month and a half after the air strike to carry out research, interview residents and victims and gather information about those who lost relatives.

“We have come to the conclusion, after the work that we did, that 137 were killed who were not Taliban,” Popal said. According to his findings, 56 children were among those killed and the number of Taliban insurgents killed could have been as few as five or six.

“But even if they killed 10 Taliban or more, that does not justify killing 137 people.”

Popal said he was looking into similar cases in Afghanistan where civilians had been killed in NATO-led air strikes but would not disclose which incidents he was looking to work on.

The air strike sparked outrage in Afghanistan and was publicly condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and turned many Germans against the war.

In Berlin a parliamentary investigation into the raid will begin to shed light on what Merkel’s government knew about the killings and whether it deliberately suppressed details of the attack before she had to face a federal election on September 27.

Popal said he wanted Germany to take an active role in developing the district of Char Dara, where the air strike took place, by building schools, clinics and houses and helping women who were widowed to live independent lives so that they could look after their families properly.

“For these women houses must be built. She has to be able to live the life of the man that has been killed, to be able to make a living,” Popal said.

Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Bill Tarrant