German military chief quits over Afghan strike
Berlin: Germany`s top general and a senior defence ministry official quit on Thursday over an air strike in Afghanistan in which NATO says as many as 142 people died.
The resignations, announced in parliament by Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, followed press revelations that a military report about the September 4 strike was suppressed.
Germany, with around 4,300 troops, is the third-largest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the United States and Britain. The mission is opposed by a majority of voters in Germany, polls indicate.
Chief of staff General Wolfgang Schneiderhan "has released himself from his duties at his own request," zu Guttenberg said. "State secretary (Peter) Wichert is also taking responsibility."
Zu Guttenberg, who took over from Franz Josef Jung only last month, confirmed that the report into the strike had been withheld and that he had been informed about it for the first time on Wednesday. It was unclear whether Jung knew about it.
A German commander, Colonel Georg Klein, called in the NATO airstrike against two tanker trucks carrying fuel that had been seized by Taliban insurgents near Kunduz, fearing they could be used to attack troops.
The Bild newspaper cited a confidential army video and report that the paper said showed that Klein could not rule out the presence of civilians around the trucks when he ordered the strike.
If that is the case, NATO rules of engagement state that Klein should not have ordered the bombardment.
A NATO source said this month that two US F15 jets made two requests to make a "show of force", meaning to fly low over the area to scare people away, but that the German commander told them to drop their bombs.
The strike came shortly after the new commander of the 100,000-strong international force in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, had issued a directive that civilian casualties had to be avoided.
Schneiderhan said on October 31, when a NATO report on the strike was published, that Klein had acted correctly.
"I have no reason to doubt that German soldiers acted in the correct military fashion, given their mandate from the United Nations and the difficult operational situation," the general had said.
The Bild report also added to pressure on the defence minister at the time, Jung, now labour minister, who said two days after the strike that according to his information "only Taliban terrorists" were killed.
According to the mass circulation daily, only hours after the strike, commanders in Afghanistan had informed military HQ in Potsdam, Germany that there were two dead teenagers in Kunduz hospital as well as six people injured "aged between 10 and 20."
A German military doctor also reported that there were two boys "aged around 14" with "open wounds" and "shrapnel injuries."
Commanders also reported that before the strike the Taliban had stormed a local mosque "and forced many villagers to help recover the fuel using tractors. Fourteen of them have since disappeared," Bild said.
Jung said Thursday he had based his knowledge on information passed on to him by the Kunduz police and Army.
"The fact is that from the very beginning, I spoke with Colonel Klein as well as with ISAF Commander McChrystal and that from the very beginning, particularly on September 6, I said clearly that we could not rule out civilian casualties," he told reporters.
He added that he would study the report and make a statement to parliament later in the day. The opposition called for a full parliamentary enquiry and there were also calls for his resignation.
In talks scheduled before the resignations, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen was to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday before a joint news conference.
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