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Afghanistan

Kunduz victims angry over colonel's promotion

A German colonel, Georg Klein, who ordered a tragic bombing near Kunduz three years ago, will be promoted to the rank of general. The Bundeswehr says it’s ‘normal’, but Afghan survivors view it as a provocation.

German Bundeswehr Colonel Georg Klein has a reputation in Afghanistan, but his name does not conjure up the best memories. On the the night of September 4, 2009, Col. Klein ordered the bombing of two hijacked tanker trucks near a Kunduz military camp. More than 100 Afghans died in the incident or were seriously injured, most of them civilians, many of them children. Despite the tragic misjudgment which Colonel Klein may have made out of fear of a possible attack, he was never charged.

The incident, however, did trigger consequences at the staff level. The poor information policy within the German Defense Ministry led to the resignation of the defense minister and to the dismissal of the Bundeswehr's Inspector General. But legal proceedings related to the case never led to formal charges or a verdict against Colonel Klein.

'Normal procedure'

Now, the Bundeswehr sees it as a ‘normal procedure' that Col. Klein should be promoted to the rank of general, three years after giving his fateful order. In future, he will be sitting behind a desk in his new position as head of the new Bundeswehr department for human resource management. But editorials in the German press mostly criticize the decision, saying what may be considered a ‘normal procedure' within the Bundeswehr, is probably seen differently abroad and also from a moral perspective. "That's not how the West can win the Afghans' hearts", read one editorial.

Lawyer Karim Popal criticizes Colonel Klein's promotion

The lawyer of the relatives of the Kunduz victims, Karim Popal, is disappointed with Colonel Klein's promotion and about Germany's Afghanistan policy as a whole. "The Federal Republic of Germany decides to promote Mr Oberst Klein and his First Sergeant at the time, Master Sergeant Wilhelm. That's a slap in the face of Afghan civil society", he says and adds that the decision to have the pair promoted is certainly not perceived as an act of international understanding by the Afghans.

Karim Popal, who works as a lawyer in the Northern German town of Bremen, is in close contact with the surviving relatives of the Afghan victims in Kunduz Province. As a group, they wrote a long and detailed letter to the German government, asking that the people responsible for the death of their children, their fathers, their families be convicted. These people, Karim Popal says, perceive Colonel Klein's promotion as a personal insult.

Angry about 'half-hearted help'

Burnt-out tanker trucks in Kunduz Province

To them, the memories of that night in September 2009 are still too vivid. Sayed Rasoul, who lost his brother in the Kunduz incident, is desperate. He has had to take over responsibility for his brother's orphans and hardly knows how to feed them, he says. "The help we got was pointless. If we'd known that they didn't plan to offer long-term help to us and that three years on, nobody thinks about what to do with the orphans, then we'd never have accepted it." Rasoul wants to see the responsible people stand trial.

Noor Jaan, who was severely injured in the incident three years ago, is equally bitter about the news from Germany. "I lost a hand, and half my bones are missing in one shoulder. They promised me surgery. But nothing's happened so far." Noor Jaan is close to tears and trembling with anger. If the injured and the victims' surviving members of family had known at the time that there was only ever going to be half-hearted help, he says, they would never have accepted it. (The Bundeswehr granted the families of 91 dead and 11 severely injured 5,000 US dollars in humanitarian aid each.)

"We have never forgiven (Colonel Klein). If the German government has forgiven him now that would disappoint us severely", Noor Jaan stresses. The letter the relatives and victims wrote will be published in a few days' time. Karim Popal will continue representing his clients and says he hopes that the so-called Kunduz affair will have a fair ending eventually.

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