France brands Afghan bombing 'a big mistake'
German troops called in the air strike Friday because of the danger posed by Taliban militants who had hijacked fuel tankers in the northern Kunduz region of Afghanistan.
Stockholm -- A NATO bombing in Afghanistan that killed scores of people was a major mistake, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Saturday as Germany defended the strike which its troops instigated.
"This was a big mistake," Kouchner told reporters as he arrived for a second day of talks with his EU counterparts in Stockholm. "We have to enquire and to denounce those responsible."
German troops called in the air strike Friday because of the danger posed by Taliban militants who had hijacked fuel tankers in the northern Kunduz region of Afghanistan, Germany's Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said Saturday.
He sought to justify the air strike saying in the Bild newspaper: "When just six kilometres (four miles) away from us, the Taliban take two fuel tankers, that represents a serious danger for us."
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also denounced the NATO bombing on Friday that triggered an outcry over civilian casualties at the hands of Western troops in an eight-year war.
The air strike destroyed two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban at a time when witnesses said villagers had rushed towards the vehicles, carrying any container they could to collect free fuel at the insurgents' invitation.
"I cannot understand that bombs can be dropped so easily and swiftly," Asselborn said. "Even if there was only one civilian there, this operation should not have taken place."
Afghan officials said the dead were mostly insurgents, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai said any targeting of civilians was unacceptable. His office said 90 people were killed and hurt.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Friday called for an "urgent investigation" into the NATO air strike.
"It's important that we are very open and clear about what happened and make sure that it doesn't happen again," Miliband told reporters in Stockholm.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini proposed a "contract" between the international community and the Afgan people to regain their trust, in an interview with the La Stampa newspaper.
"We are in Afghanistan to guarantee security, not to bring death," he said, adding that he would raise in Stockholm the idea of a ministerial conference among coalition nations in 2010 to discuss the way forward.
While ruling out a NATO pullout, he said there is a pressing need "to win back the trust of Afghans" through reconstruction, economic growth, developing crop alternatives to opium and fighting corruption.
Whoever is declared the winner of Afghanistan's presidential election, he added, needs to "spell out a contract with the international community based on such a change of strategy, shifting from a military dimension to a global one".
In London, Lord Paddy Ashdown -- whose candidacy as international envoy to Afghanistan was vetoed by President Hamid Karzai last year -- told the BBC that Britain needs to ask whether the war in Afghanistan can still be won.
"This was the right war to fight but we have made catastrophic errors over the last five years and unless we can turn this thing round very quickly I think things will not get better, they are likely to get worse," he said.