Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Afghanistan attack kills 4 U.S. troops

Afghanistan attack kills 4 U.S. troops: "KABUL — NATO forces acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that Afghan civilians were killed in a German-ordered airstrike last week on two stolen fuel tankers, as the alliance’s top commander in the country appointed a team to investigate.Meanwhile, four American troops were killed in ‘a complex attack’ in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman. S

he did not give further details.Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, making it the deadliest month for American forces in the deadliest year since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. The latest deaths bring to 11 the number of U.S. service members killed so far in September.As fighting has intensified, debates about how international forces conduct themselves have also become more heated.German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that her government won’t accept ‘premature judgments’ about the attack in Kunar.

Germany’s military has been criticized for calling in a U.S. jet on Friday to bomb two hijacked tanker trucks in Kunduz province and for initially insisting that it appeared only militants were killed. Local officials have said civilians were among more than 50 killed, but there have been conflicting claims over how many.A statement from the NATO-led force said Tuesday that commanders originally believed the tankers were surrounded only by Taliban insurgents, but that a subsequent review showed ‘civilians also were killed and injured in the strike.’

Previously, officials had said only that civilians may have been wounded.The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, appointed a Canadian major general to lead an investigation. A U.S. Air Force officer and a German officer are also on the investigating team. The makeup of the investigative team is important because the incident involved German and U.S. forces.Taliban militants have used attacks such as the one Friday in northern Kunduz province to rally support among villagers angry at international forces.McChrystal has said military officials could see about 120 people around the tankers when the airstrikes were launched.

German officials have said they believed all were militants, but the decision to launch airstrikes appeared to run counter to directives from McChrystal to draw back from conflicts rather than risk civilian deaths.Merkel acknowledged the possibility that civilians were harmed and that ‘we will not gloss over anything’ when results of the investigation are in. But she told parliament that the identities of those hit were still unclear because of contradictory reports.‘We will not accept premature judgments,’ she said. ‘I say this very clearly after what I have experienced in the last few days: I will not tolerate that from whoever it may be, at home as well as abroad.’

Just weeks before national elections, she delivered a robust defense of a military mission that is unpopular at home.The NATO announcement came the same day a Taliban car bomber attacked an international convoy near the entrance to the military airport in Kabul. The chief of Kabul’s criminal investigation department, Abdul Ghafar Sayadzada, said three Afghan civilians were killed and six wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, the third major attack by insurgents in the capital in four weeks.

No foreign forces were killed in the attack, Mathias said. The Belgian Defense Ministry said one Belgian soldier was seriously wounded and that three others were lightly wounded.Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said a suicide car bomber rammed into a NATO convoy and destroyed three Land Cruisers.The early-morning blast rattled windows more than a mile away and sent flames shooting out of burning vehicles.A witness said he saw the car ram into a line of SUVs.‘I saw three or four Land Cruisers for the foreigners just in front of the gate ... then there was a car, and it hit them then blew up,’ said Humayun, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name and who watched the attack from his nearby shop.The military airport used by U.S. and other international forces is right next to Kabul’s civilian airport, but they have separate entrances.Insurgent attacks, often deadly, occur in Kabul despite tight security and blast walls.

Suicide bombers have hit government buildings and gunmen have overrun ministries.In the run-up to the Aug. 20 presidential election, a suicide attack near the main gate of NATO headquarters killed seven people and injured scores and gunmen briefly took over a bank in the city.

Also, insurgents fired on the presidential palace on the same day that they unleashed a suicide car bombers on a NATO convoy.The violence in the capital comes amid growing uncertainty over the vote. A U.N.-backed commission investigating the vote said Tuesday it had found ‘clear and convincing evidence of fraud’ and that it was ordering a recount of questionable polling stations.Widespread allegations of ballot-box stuffing and suspicious tallies are threatening the legitimacy of the election as the country awaits final results. More than 720 major fraud charges have been lodged with the Electoral Complaints Commission."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Predator goes down in Afghanistan

Predator goes down in Afghanistan: "An MQ-1 Predator crashed Friday in Afghanistan, according to the Air Force.The remote-controlled airplane, based at Kandahar Airfield, went down in eastern Afghanistan around 4:30 p.m. after losing engine thrust, reports said.The crash marked at least the fourth loss of a Predator since October.Air Force safety and accident investigation boards will determine what led to the crash."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

WWII pilot to search German farm for lost wings

WWII pilot to search German farm for lost wings: "CONCORD, N.H. — Sixty-five-years ago, 1st Lt. Bernerd Harding huddled in a cellar with a few other airmen captured by German farmers and buried his pilot’s wings, fearful he’d be beaten or shot as an American bomber pilot.Now, at age 90, Harding wants his wings back. He’s headed to Germany on Sunday and hopes — with the help of a German doctor — to find the farm house cellar and dig up the 3-inch long metal wings that he had proudly pinned to his shirt. The house was in rural Klein Quenstedt, Germany, southwest of Berlin, he said.‘I know exactly where the wings are. They’re not very deep.

I won’t need a shovel,’ he said in a firm, clear voice during a telephone interview from his Milford, N.H., home.A month after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Harding was a 25-year-old B-24 pilot flying his 14th mission when he was shot down. Harding, a member of the 8th Air Force’s 492nd Bomb Group, was leading nine other B-24s in the 859th squadron on a daylight mission to bomb an aircraft manufacturing plant in Bernburgh on July 7, 1944. He was carrying 11 other soldiers on his plane.He had just dropped his bomb load when the support planes that kept German fighters at bay were diverted to protect bombers in another squadron.

Shortly afterward, German fighters crippled his plane, nicknamed Georgette, and Harding ordered his crew to parachute.‘Our inboard engines were on fire. We lost every control. I gave the order for everyone to bail out. I bailed out last,’ Harding said.All 10 planes in his squadron, carrying about 100 crewmen and pilots. were shot down, he recalled. At least half died, he said. Of the 12 men aboard Georgette, only one died that day, shot in the head by his German captors, Harding found out later. The others were all captured and survived the war but have since died.Harding landed in a freshly cut wheat field. Three farmers, two with pitchforks and one with a gun, captured him and herded him into the cellar. They held him until German army officers could take charge.Two other airmen who had been shot down were already being held when Harding arrived. He dug a hole and buried his wings.

‘We were there a while. We heard a wagon rumbling over the cobblestones,’ he said.A young German who spoke English ordered the airmen to take the body of a dead American airman off the wagon.After several hours, Germans soldiers loaded the captured Americans into a van that took them to Halberstadt Air Force Base. About 100 other Americans had been rounded up from 36 planes shot down that day, Harding said. Three days later, they were loaded onto a train to Frankfurt, interrogated and then sent to a prisoner of war camp in Barth.After 10 months in the POW camp, the Russian army was approaching from the East.

The German captors told the 7,500 prisoners to leave. The next morning, the Germans had fled, Harding said. The Russians freed the prisoners.German assistanceAs the years passed, Harding didn’t think much about his wings. He wasn’t sure how the German villagers would treat an American pilot who had bombed their country.Then, last year, he attended services at Arlington National Cemetery for six airmen whose remains had only recently been discovered with the help of German villagers. Harding began to think Klein Quenstedt residents might help him recover his wings and close a chapter in his life.Early this year, a friend of Harding’s found a Web site about an old water mill in Klein Quenstedt owned by Dr. Ulrich Heucke, a village resident. The friend e-mailed Heucke describing Harding’s quest and asked for help.Heucke, 41, became intrigued because of his interest in history, and wrote back. He began interviewing older village residents who remembered what had happened.One resident remembered a dead airman with his parachute wrapped around him. That fit Harding’s description of the dead man he helped take off the wagon.Heucke sent Harding pictures of several houses that might be where he was held, but Harding didn’t recognize them.

The pictures showed the front of the houses, and Harding had entered through the rear.

Heucke plans to take Harding and his family to four farm houses Wednesday in search of his wings.‘There were some places I definitely know American airmen were in. Others I just suspect,’ Heucke said.The village hasn’t changed much, but some buildings have been remodeled, Heucke said. Most of the older farm houses are still standing.He said chances of Harding finding the pin are slim. But people in the small village of 750 want to help.‘We will just go around. It is the last hope to find the place,’ he said.Heucke also has arranged for Harding to fly over the village to see if that helps pinpoint the house.‘I would like to get to know Bernerd Harding after the time we communicated,’ Heucke said. ‘It is very interesting that a man 90 years of age is coming here, making a journey to see this place.’Harding just hopes he finds the right cellar and no one has poured concrete over the floor in the years since he scratched his shallow hole in the dirt."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)


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