An air strike by U.S. fighter jets that appears to have killed Afghan civilians could turn into a major dispute for NATO allies Germany and the United States, as tensions began rising between them Sunday over Germany's role in ordering the attack.
Afghan officials say up to 70 people were killed in the early morning air strike Friday when an American fighter jet, called on by Germany, bombed two hijacked fuel trucks in the country's northern province of Kunduz. The top U.S. and NATO spokesperson in Afghanistan said 56 people were killed, according to a preliminary count.
Afghan and NATO investigations are just beginning, but both German and U.S. officials already appeared to be trying to deflect blame.
The bombing comes amid calls for a troop withdrawal and more reports of voter fraud in Afghanistan's recent elections.
According to The New York Times, loyalists to Afghanistan's incumbent President Hamid Karzai stuffed ballot boxes at hundreds of fake polling sites.
The fake sites, as many as 800, existed only on paper, said a senior Western diplomat in Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the vote...
"We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day," the senior Western diplomat said. "But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai."
Conservative columnist George Will called for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last week and defended himself on ABC's "This Week," Sunday morning.
Referencing a letter from Marine Commandant General Charles Krulak, Will cited military support for his position on Afghanistan. Will said Sunday, "We are going to have a debate and there will be plenty of brass on my side."
According to The Washington Post, The air strike occurred a day after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates indicated that he is open to increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan despite earlier concerns about an outsize American "footprint" in the country.
The bombing comes just three weeks before elections in Germany and is shaping up to be central issue, according The L.A. Times.
There are more than 100,000 soldiers from NATO and a separate US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
815 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001, according to icasualties.org, an independent web site that tracks casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.