KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents.
A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signaled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.
“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers ... Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.
A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.
Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.
Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.
Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.
Opposition spiked after a German-ordered U.S. air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.
Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.
Underscoring the political sensitivity of the war in Germany, defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg interrupted a holiday to fly back to Germany after Friday’s incidents.
“We’ve opened a perspective for an exit from Afghanistan. But until then it will remain a difficult and dangerous mission. The severity of the fighting shows that we’re facing war-like conditions in Afghanistan,” Guttenberg told Germany’s ARD TV.
In February a NATO air strike aimed at insurgents attacking a joint NATO-Afghan patrol in Kunduz accidentally killed several Afghan policemen.
Additional reporting by Golnar Motevalli in KABUL and Erik Kirschbaum in BERLIN; Writing by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani