German opposition for probe into cover up of Afghan strike

Opposition parties in Germany on Monday joined forces to demand a parliamentary inquiry into alleged cover up of civilian casualties in a NATO strike in Afghanistan.

Berlin: Opposition parties in Germany on Monday joined forces to demand a parliamentary inquiry into alleged cover up of civilian casualties in a NATO strike in Afghanistan and probe whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had any role in it.
German Labour Minister Franz Josef Jung, who was in charge of the Defence Ministry, stepped down on Friday taking "political responsibility" for the ministry`s handling of the information on the air strike in Kundus last September, in which 124 civilians were killed.

The alleged cover up had also cost the head of the German Armed Forces General Wolfgang Schneiderhan and State Secretary in the Defence Ministry Peter Wichert their jobs.

However, Germany`s present parliamentary opposition comprising of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Left Party and the ecological Green party insisted that resignation of Jung and other two senior defence officials was not enough to clear up the incident.

They plan to convert the present Defence Committee of the Bundestag, the Lower House of Parliament, as an inquiry commission.

"The resignation of Jung leaves many questions unanswered. This is not just about the errors committed by some individuals, but the basic principles of a parliamentary democracy are at stake," opposition leader in the Bundestag and former foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier said.

The Kundus incident will certainly be investigated by an inquiry commission, the SPD`s co-chairman of the Defence Committee Sussane Kastner said.

The air strike on two oil trucks hijacked by the Taliban in Kundus in northern Afghanistan on September 4 was ordered by commander of the German military contingent in Afghanistan Col Georg Klein, who had defended his decision saying he was convinced the Taliban would use the oil trucks to carry out a suicide attack on the nearby German military base in Kundus.

A NATO report on the incident a few days later said around 124 persons were killed when a US fighter bombed the trucks and among them were a number of civilians, including children, who tried to sap oil from the trucks which got bogged down in a muddy road.

The Bild daily had reported that the German Military Police had sent a report and videos on the incident, including details of the civilian casualties, to the Defence Ministry, but top officials in the ministry held back that information.

Following Jung`s resignation, opposition parties have targeted their criticism on zu Guttenberg because he defended the air strike as "militarily appropriate" soon after taking office four weeks ago.

zu Guttenberg later justified his comments stating that his assessment of the incident was based only on the NATO report and he had not received the German Military Police report until last Wednesday.

Left Party`s parliamentary group leader Gregor Gysy described the air attack as the "most serious military incident involving Germany" since the end of World War II.

"We are not a parliamentary democracy if we do not thoroughly investigate such an incident and bring to justice those responsible," he told a party conference.

Juerger Trittin, parliamentary leader of the Green Party, called upon Chancellor Merkel and zu Guttenberg to make a fresh assessment of the NATO air strike.

He called for a parliamentary investigation to find out whether the instructions for the alleged cover up came from the chancellor`s office or some "overly obedient officials" in the Defence Ministry and in the military were responsible.

Chancellor Merkel`s party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had given up initial reservations about a parliamentary inquiry into the incident and said it will not block Opposition efforts to form an inquiry commission.

Parliamentary leader of the conservative group in the Bundestag Volker Kauder said the House has the right to know why the report about civilian casualties was "kept secret".

However, he hoped the Kundus incident will be cleared in every detail by a new investigation ordered by zu Guttenberg on Thursday soon after the alleged cover-up came to light.