Just before 2am on Sept. 4, German Col. Georg Klein gave a two-word command—"Weapons release!"—and US fighter jets bombed a pair of tanker trucks in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 100 Afghans clustered around them, many of them civilians. Although his tour has ended, the officer is still in Afghanistan, facing a NATO investigation. Klein appears to have misled American pilots when he told them his troops had been in contact with the enemy, and the situation posed an immediate threat, Der Spiegel reports.
Klein lacked the authority to order an airstrike in the absence of those two conditions without consulting NATO forces in Kabul—or even higher up the chain if civilian casualties were a risk. In fact, the trucks had been stuck in the riverbed for hours, and German forces had not carried out reconnaissance. Yet when American F-15 crews asked if the situation posed an "imminent threat," and whether there was contact with the enemy, he responded to both: "Confirmed." The strike has had repercussions not only for the German military but for political leaders; the country goes to the polls this Sunday.