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Karzai Says Strike Ordered By Germans Was Wrong

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- A NATO air strike which killed 30 Afghan civilians in northern Afghanistan this month was "wrong," Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said, but he defended the role of the German troops who called in the raid.

Germany has defended the decision of its commander in the area to call in the raid and brushed off suggestions that restrictions it places on its forces increased the chances of civilian casualties by making troops rely on air strikes.

A German officer called in the air strike on September 4 after Taliban fighters hijacked two fuel trucks.

An Afghan government investigation released on September 17 said 30 civilians gathering fuel from the trucks were killed, along with 69 Taliban fighters.

Eleven fighters and nine civilians were wounded, the report said. The figures were released by officials earlier this week.

The incident has become a major domestic political issue in Germany, weeks before a general election. Both major German political parties support the war but polls show most Germans want to pull their troops out.

"The operation was wrong. It should have not been conducted, it could have been conducted by other means," Karzai told a news conference on September 17.

Germany has said it believes 56 Taliban fighters were killed in the strike, which was carried out by a U.S. fighter jet following German orders.

A majority of Germans want Germany's 4,200 troops to come home. Most of the troops are based in Konduz, an increasingly violent area in the north where the Taliban maintain a fiefdom in an otherwise stable part of the country.

Karzai defended the role of the German military in Afghanistan, which carried out its first major military offensive in the country only two months ago.

"As far as the intention of the German troops is concerned, it's a long old friend of Afghanistan. Afghans know that very well," Karzai said. "Germany has no intention of hurting anybody," he added.