- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

BERLIN Anti-aircraft missiles that peacekeepers in the Afghan capital, Kabul, were trying to defuse exploded yesterday, killing two German and three Danish soldiers and injuring seven, the top officer in the Germany military said.
The soldiers were attempting to destroy two Russian-made SA-3 ground-to-air missiles with a controlled explosion at a munitions-collection point about three miles from the German military's base in Kabul, Gen. Harald Kujat said.
The SA-3 was part of the arsenal of Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, but Gen. Kujat said the origin of the missiles was not clear. He did not know whether one or both exploded in the incident yesterday afternoon.
"Apparently, the explosion went off early," he told a news conference in Berlin. "The soldiers were still in the area close to the two missiles."
In addition to the five dead, seven soldiers were injured, three of them seriously, Gen. Kujat said. Three of the wounded were Danes, the Danish Defense Command said.
The casualties were the first German or Danish soldiers killed in the security force set up to protect the government of Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed condolences to the families of the dead soldiers, calling it a tragic accident. He said, however, that the accident should not raise questions about Germany's deployment in the region.
"It was a task that did not have anything to do with military conflict. There is no reason to question the mission," Mr. Schroeder said.
Germany's decision in November to offer up to 3,900 soldiers for the U.S.-led war against terrorism and related tasks was preceded by a wrenching national debate over the most far-reaching deployment since World War II.
Gen. Kujat, the inspector general of the German armed forces, said it appeared soldiers were observing safety regulations and there was no evidence of sabotage.
"This was an accident," he said.
More than 700 German soldiers are part of the international security force deployed in and around the Afghan capital. About 50 Danish soldiers who specialize in mine clearing were sent to Afghanistan in January.
The SA-3 has a range of 11 miles and weighs 2,100 pounds. It was designed to destroy aircraft, cruise missiles, assault helicopters and other targets at low or medium altitudes. First introduced in 1961, the missile is comparable to a MIM-23 Hawk in the U.S. arsenal.

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