German military chief quits over deadly Afghan strike

27th November 2009, Comments 1 comment

The news came at an unfortunate time for Chancellor Angela Merkel, as parliament was debating extending the mandate for the German mission in Afghanistan. Even before the air strike it was opposed by a majority of voters.

Berlin -- Germany's top general quit on Thursday over an air strike in Afghanistan on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in which dozens of civilians are thought to have perished.

The resignation, announced in parliament by Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg together with that of a senior ministry official, followed press revelations that a military report about the September 4 strike was suppressed.

The news came at an unfortunate time for Chancellor Angela Merkel, as parliament was debating extending the mandate for the German mission in Afghanistan. Even before the air strike it was opposed by a majority of voters.

With around 4,300 troops in the war-torn region, Germany is the third-largest contributor of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan after the United States and Britain.

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 had been withheld and said that he had been informed about it only on Wednesday. It was unclear whether Jung knew about it.

A German commander, Colonel Georg Klein, called in the NATO air strike against the two fuel trucks near Kunduz after they got stuck on a sandbank crossing a river, fearing they could be used to attack troops.

An Afghan government report in September said it had killed 99 people including 30 civilians.

A confidential NATO report cited by Schneiderhan in late October said that the death toll varied between 17 and 142, and that local sources had said that 30 to 40 civilians died.

The Bild newspaper cited a confidential army 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 bombing.

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 500-pound (227-kilo) bombs.

Bild showed on its website aerial video footage of the trucks surrounded by people, before an immense explosion followed by a fireball and a huge jet black mushroom cloud.

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 had previously defended Klein's actions.

"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 said.

The Bild report also added to pressure on 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 had informed military HQ in Germany that there were two dead teenagers in Kunduz hospital and six people injured "aged between 10 and 20."

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.

But this information did not make it into the open.

Jung said that he would study the military report and make a statement to parliament at around 1650 GMT. The opposition called for a full parliamentary enquiry and there were also calls for his resignation.

Merkel, speaking after talks organised before Schneiderhan's resignation with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that "full transparency must exist so that there is complete confidence in the (Afghan) mission."


1 Comment To This Article

  • Richard fusilier de la Claire posted:

    on 28th November 2009, 04:18:24 - Reply

    He shouldn't have resigned, but the only way to win is to wage aggressive war by attacks incessantly, Air bombing day and night and artillery bombardment frequently and constant attrition of their troops. There'll give up when life becomes deadly! They can't stand up against a Western trained soldier in the field!