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NATO investigates airstrike on hijacked tankers in Afghanistan

Last Updated: Saturday, September 5, 2009 - 13:36

Kunduz: NATO investigators sought to determine on Saturday if any of the scores of people killed in a US airstrike on two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban were civilians trying to siphon fuel, while a bomb blast targeted German troops in the same northern Afghan province.

The 10-member investigative team flew over the site on the Kunduz river where a US jet hit the tankers before dawn Friday with two 500-pound (225-kilogram) bombs, triggering a fireball that killed up to 70 people.

Later, the team led by US Rear Admiral Gregory J Smith, NATO`s director of communications in Kabul, spoke to two injured villagers in the Kunduz hospital, including a boy and a farmer with shrapnel wounds. Both said they were not at the river with the tanker trucks when the bombs fell but were standing a long distance away.

"We don`t yet know how many civilians" were at the site of the blast, Smith said. "Unfortunately, we can`t get to every village."

A bomb blast, meanwhile, hit a German military convoy on Saturday, damaging at least one vehicle. The provincial police chief, Abdullah Razaq Yaqoobi, said a suicide car bomb caused the blast, though German military officials blamed a roadside bomb.

German officials said four soldiers were wounded in the attack, a report said.

NATO said Friday`s airstrike targeted militants who had hijacked two tankers carrying fuel to its forces in Kabul, but Afghan officials said dozens of villagers also died in the blasts as they tried to retrieve fuel from the tankers.

The deputy UN representative to Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, said on Saturday he was "very concerned" about the reports.

"Steps must also be taken to examine what happened and why an airstrike was employed in circumstances where it was hard to determine with certainty that civilians were not present," Galbraith said.

The German military, whose troops called in the strike, said they feared the hijackers would use the trucks to carry out a suicide attack against its base nearby.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, September 5, 2009 - 13:36

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