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Germany

Guttenberg says German troops will stay in Afghan 'war'

Defense Minister Guttenberg has defended the mission in Afghanistan amid mounting criticism following the deaths of German and Afghan soldiers. An investigation has been launched into Friday's friendly fire incident.

Defense Minister Guttenberg

Guttenberg said the conflict could in colloquial terms be called a "war"

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg announced on Sunday the start of a thorough investigation into a friendly fire incident that left six Afghan soldiers dead.

Guttenberg told journalists that the office of the German prosecutor general had already started an investigation into Friday's friendly fire incident. He said that in addition, his own ministry and the Afghan Defense Ministry would also investigate the circumstances leading to the Afghan soldiers' death.

The incident occurred on the same day three German soldiers died and eight were wounded in heavy fighting with insurgents near the northern city of Kunduz, where German soldiers are based.

Guttenberg: situation could be called war

Guttenberg also stressed Germany's commitment to making Afghanistan safe. "Our soldiers aren't there for nothing," he said.

However, he said that in colloquial terms, the situation faced by German soldiers in Afghanistan could be called a war.

The remarks reflect calls by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and some others to reclassify the German mission in Afghanistan as "armed conflict." So far, German military forces have been subjected to the civil penal code, given their participation in training Afghan police and soldiers and in reconstruction activities.

Bundeswehr soldiers prepare to place a coffin in a military aircraft

The Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany

Guttenberg's comments come amid mounting calls by peace activists to pull Bundeswehr troops out of Afghanistan. The mission is widely unpopular among the German population.

Berlin currently has around 4,500 troops deployed in Afghanistan, working alongside soldiers from other countries under NATO command to check insurgents in the country.

Most of the German forces are in northern Afghanistan, which is regarded as relatively peaceful compared to other areas of the country. However, Kunduz has seen an increase in attacks by Taliban and other insurgent groups in recent months.

Mistaken identity?

Describing Friday's attack on the German troops, the head of the German armed forces General Volker Wieker told a news conference that a patrol was ambushed with gunfire and rockets by two groups of Taliban fighters. A German armored vehicle also struck a mine, he said.

The fighting that followed lasted around 10 hours, Wieker said, adding that 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 injured, the general said. Four soldiers wounded in the firefight have returned to Germany and are said to be in stable condition.

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. He said six Afghan soldiers in one of the vehicles were killed.

Afghans inspect a burned out German military vehicle at the site where three German soldiers were killed in a firefight on April 2, in Kunduz province

Attacks have been on the rise in Kunduz province

Sympathy and condolences

Guttenberg expressed his condolences to the families of the six Afghan soldiers and the three German troops killed near Kunduz.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed her sympathy in a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai late on Saturday.

German troops in Afghanistan paid their last respects to the fallen soldiers at a ceremony held at the German field camp in Kunduz. German Development Minister Dirk Niebel, who was in Afghanistan when the attack occurred, also attended the ceremony.

Meanwhile, peace activists in Germany have taken to the streets across the country in traditional Easter rallies against war. This year, the main theme of the marches has been the conflict in Afghanistan and the death of German and Afghan soldiers there.

rb/dpa/AFP
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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