BERLIN Ã¢â‚¬â€ Germany’s Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg admitted Sunday that German troops mistakenly killed six Afghan soldiers at the weekend, and expressed condolences for the deaths.
The German troops were en route to reinforce others under attack and had opened fire on a civilian vehicle that had ignored warnings to halt and in which the Afghans were travelling, the head of the German armed forces said.
The defence ministry had said earlier that five Afghans died in the incident late Friday, which came soon after German forces were ambushed by Taliban militants with three troops killed and eight wounded.
In a televised news conference in Bonn, Zu Guttenberg expressed his condolences to the families of the six Afghan soldiers and the three German troops killed near the northeastern town of Kunduz.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her sympathy in a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai late Saturday.
Zu Guttenberg also stressed Germany’s commitment to making troubled Afghanistan safe, saying: “Our soldiers aren’t there for nothing.”
“We will stay in Afghanistan” even though the situation was “war-like”, he added.
Germany has about 4,500 troops in the country, working alongside soldiers from several countries under NATO command against an insurgency that has followed the ouster of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Most of the German forces are in northern Afghanistan, which is relatively peaceful compared to other areas of the country although Kunduz has seen an increase in attacks by Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Describing Friday’s attack on the German troops, army chief of staff General Volker Wieker told the news conference that a patrol was ambushed with gunfire and rockets by two groups of Taliban numbering around 30-40 fighters each.
A German armoured vehicle also struck a mine.
The fighting that followed lasted around 10 hours, he said. NATO air support was called in but was unable to attack for fear of striking German soldiers or civilians.
Three soldiers were killed and eight wounded, four of them seriously, the general said. The four were evacuated to Germany and two had undergone emergency operations. A hospital spokesman said they were stable.
The general said a German unit sent to reinforce the soldiers under attack had opened fire on two civilian vehicles which had not heeded calls to stop. Six Afghan soldiers in one of the vehicles were killed, he said.