BERLIN, April 5 (UPI) -- The German government for the first time spoke of being at war in Afghanistan after a heavy firefight with 80 Taliban insurgents left three German troops dead.
It was a terrible Good Friday for the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan: First a German patrol was ambushed near Kunduz by two groups of 40 Taliban insurgents. The heavy firefight, which lasted for several hours, left three Germans dead, severely wounding eight more.
Shortly after the clashes began, another German unit was sent to help their comrades. Yet en route to the ambush, the Germans opened fire on two vehicles that officials in Berlin said would not stop approaching them despite warnings. Six Afghan troops in the vehicles were killed. While Germany says the troops approached in civilian cars, Kabul says they were military vehicles.
The ambush and the so-called "friendly fire" incident sparked concern in Germany, where popularity for the Afghanistan mission is waning.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to apologize for the friendly fire incident, which is being investigated by NATO as well as the German and Afghan defense ministries.
In a televised news conference Sunday, Germany's Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg broke with a longtime mantra -- for the first time ever, a German official spoke of war in Afghanistan.
"The perfidy and the complexity" of the attack and the overall security situation in Afghanistan show that Germany is involved "in what might colloquially be called a war," he said.
The ambush was professionally prepared and orchestrated.
The Taliban used gunfire, rocket launchers and land mines to attack the German patrol; a Dingo armored vehicle was destroyed and left behind.
In Germany, observers are now calling for soldiers to better prepared for these attacks.
Ulrich Weisser, a retired German Navy admiral, said the German government was jeopardizing the lives of the 4,500 German troops on the ground by ignoring their equipment requirements.
In an interview with German daily Bild, he urged Berlin to equip troops in Afghanistan with reconnaissance drones to Afghanistan so that ambushes like Friday's can be prevented. And to counter them, they need combat and transport helicopters as well as heavy artillery, he said. Weisser added it was "completely unacceptable" that not a single German combat helicopter has been sent to Afghanistan.
The attack comes a few moths after a controversial German-ordered bombing killed more than 140 people, most of them Afghan civilians, near Kunduz last September.
Berlin has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the air raid and several high-ranking officials, including zu Guttenberg, have come under pressure for failing to inform the public.