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Germany’s top soldier quits over Afghan raid
Berlin, Nov 26 (Agencies):
Published on 26 Nov. 2009 11:08 PM IST
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Germany’s top soldier has resigned over the handling of a Nato air strike in Afghanistan in which civilians were killed, the defence minister said. Wolfgang Schneiderhan stood down over the September 4 attack in Kunduz on fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban. His decision followed reports that information about the strike - ordered by a German commander - was later withheld, the defence minister said. The strike is thought to have killed dozens of civilians collecting fuel. Taliban fighters had seized the two tankers while they were being driven from Tajikistan to supply Nato forces in Kabul. Reports said that villagers were taking fuel from the tankers when the strike happened. For several days after the September 4 attack, the defence minister at the time, Franz Josef Jung, maintained that no civilians had been killed. Today’s edition of the mass circulation ‘Bild’ newspaper claims the German defence ministry did know about civilian casualties. Now, on the day the German parliament is debating whether to extend the troop mission in Afghanistan, we see the first political casualties. The German chief of staff and a deputy defence minister have resigned. But there is little doubt that German troops will remain in Afghanistan. Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their coalition partner the Free Democrats have already called for an extension of the Germany military mission - and their parties enjoy a clear majority in parliament. It is not clear exactly how many civilians died. The independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor group put the number of civilians deaths at 70. The Afghan government later said that at least 100 people died, of whom 30 were civilians. Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told parliament that Gen Schneiderhan had failed to provide proper information about the incident and had “released himself from his duties at his own request”. The announcement came hours after a German newspaper, Bild, published a report alleging key information over the incident had been withheld. Citing a confidential army video and a military report, it said they showed that the German commander who ordered the strike, Col Georg Klein, had not been able to rule out the presence of civilians at the scene before he took action. The newspaper said that the report proved that the defence ministry would have seen clear indications that there had been civilian casualties, but that former Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung stated for several days that this was not the case. The resignation came as the German parliament debated whether to extend its military mission in Afghanistan. Germany has more than 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent after the US and Britain.

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