The German army colonel who ordered the disastrous Afghan tanker strike that killed dozens of civilians overstepped his authority and was in clear breach of military procedures, a leaked Nato report on the bombing revealed yesterday.
Details of Nato's initial investigation into last Fridays' attack on two fuel tankers captured by the Taliban were published in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding to a growing pre-election row over the country's military presence in Afghanistan.
Citing the leaked document, the paper said the report had found that Colonel Georg Klein, the officer who ordered the attack, had "overstepped" his authority and "poorly evaluated" the situation. An unnamed but high-ranking German Nato officer was quoted as saying that it was "completely clear" that Col Klein had been in breach of military procedures.
About 100 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the air strike, which Col Klein ordered because he allegedly feared that they would be used as truck bombs against Nato forces. However the report was said to have established that at the time of the strike the captured fuel tankers were bogged down in sand, posed no imminent threat to Nato forces and were being closely monitored.
The unnamed German officer said Col Klein should have consulted the headquarters of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force before ordering the attack, which has provoked criticism from Britain, France and the Afghan government.
The German Defence Ministry dismissed the leak as "unconfirmed speculation" yesterday and said it would make no further comment until the full report was published. The German commander in Afghanistan said he stood firmly behind Col Klein. However, the bombing remains a problem for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a general election in just over a fortnight.
"Don't mention the war" has been one of the unspoken rules of the main parties' election campaigns because a sizeable majority of voters want Germany to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The popularity of Ms Merkel's conservatives and their allies has dropped by two points since the bombing.