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By Brian Rohan
BERLIN (Reuters) - German troops made mistakes but acted appropriately when they ordered an air strike on two fuel trucks in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said on Friday.
In his first comments on the September 4 attack, Guttenberg backed up the German army's initial assessment of a confidential NATO investigation into the attack on Taliban fighters.
"Given the overall threat assessment, the air strike was militarily appropriate," Guttenberg said after briefing parliamentary floor leaders on the NATO report.
"There were procedural errors, certain shortcomings in training, and questions were raised about the rules of engagement," the conservative minister added. "But even if there had been none, an air strike would have been necessary."
The September 4 attack was the most deadly operation involving German troops since World War Two, killing 69 Taliban fighters and 30 civilians, according to the Afghan government.
Guttenberg also acknowledged there were civilian victims -- the German government's first official recognition.
Germany has pressure on NATO not to issue an outright condemnation of the officer who ordered the strike, Colonel Georg Klein, because it could lead to legal problems, according to German media reports.
The attack, carried out by a U.S. F-15 fighter jet, was condemned by several European foreign ministers. Germany has said it was necessary to protect its troops from a possible suicide attack by Taliban fighters who had hijacked the trucks.
Guttenberg took office last month after a general election and has quickly earned the respect of some soldiers, who see him as a straight talker in touch with the troops.
He broke a taboo kept by his predecessor, Franz-Josef Jung, by using the word "war" to refer to Germany's participation in the NATO-led mission.
Germans remain highly sceptical of military operations more than 60 years after the defeat of the Nazis. It was only a decade ago that German troops participated in their first foreign combat mission since the war.
Opinion polls show a majority of Germans oppose the operation in Afghanistan and want the 4,200 troops to come home.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)