WASHINGTON - With the rift between United States and Germany over the conduct of the war in Afghanistan widening, both countries sought to shift blame over a German-ordered bombing raid that led to scores of civilians being killed, according to media reports. Afghan officials say up to 90 people were killed in the early morning airstrike Friday in the northern province of Kunduz after Taliban militants stole two tanker trucks of fuel and villagers gathered to siphon off gas. Afghan and Nato investigations are just beginning, but both German and US officials are already trying to deflect blame. Germany defended the raid as militarily necessary to protect German troops, even though it went against the express orders of the new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, to safeguard civilians. A human rights organisation, in the first independent assessment of the death toll, said 60-70 civilians had been killed. The raid was carried out by the US air force but McChrystal distanced himself from it, apologising to the Afghan government and saying he had not ordered it, the reports said. The strike was called in by a senior German officer, it was pointed out. The German government said the officer feared two hijacked oil tankers, stuck in a riverbed, were to be used for a suicide bombing of the German base at Kunduz, in the north of the country. While the US has expressed most of its criticism in private, Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not hold back Monday, siding with the US in condemning the German decision. It was the deadliest military operation Germany has been involved since the second world war. The rift between the US and its European allies comes as the Taliban extends its influence in the country. The US and European countries involved are facing domestic pressure to withdraw, and Germany, Britain and France on Sunday proposed a conference to discuss how to get the Afghan government to take more responsibility for its own security. The US has expressed private criticism of the German commander in Kunduz for calling in an airstrike based on the assessment of one Afghan informant on the ground that all those people around the tankers were Taliban and on grainy aerial photographs. At the time of the attack, the two tankers were stationary in a riverbed, with the local populace apparently helping themselves to free oil. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a US spokesman in Afghanistan, said German troops had allowed too many hours to pass before visiting the site of the attack on Friday, saying it was important to reach the scene quickly to establish what had happened before the enemy got the chance to deliver its version. The German Army Association, a veterans organisation, accused the US of launching a tit-for-tat attack on Germany, which has been critical of the number of civilians killed in US operations. This is in retaliation for Germany always pointing the finger at other nations, said Ulrich Kirsch. A human rights group, the Afghan Rights Monitor, which conducted 15 interviews with villagers in the Char Dara district, where the bombing took place, said only a dozen militants had died and about up to 79 villagers. Even if all the victims were supporters of the Taliban, the fact that most of them were unarmed and were not engaged in any combat activity does not warrant their mass killing, Ajmal Samadi, the rights groups director, was quoted assaying in press reports. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which runs the hospital in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul, accused the US Armys 10th Mountain Division of forcing its way into its hospital without permission on Wednesday, kicking down doors, tying up four hospital guards and two people visiting relatives, and forcing patients out of beds. A US military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, confirmed that the hospital was searched last week and the incident was being investigated.