Guttenberg tells lawmakers that he had not been fully informedImage: picture-alliance/dpa
Guttenberg admits error
April 22, 2010
German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has appeared as a key witness in a parliamentary inquiry to explain what he knew about a deadly German-requested NATO airstrike in Afghanistan last year.
Lawmakers were very keen to find out why Guttenberg changed his mind about whether the strike ordered on September 4, 2009 on two Taliban hijacked tankers in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan had been "appropriate." The attack killed up to 142 people, many of them civilians.
During Thursday's questioning, the defense minister admitted that he had made a mistake in the aftermath of the airstrike, by initially saying it had been appropriate.
He explained that, after more information became available, he declared it to have been "inappropriate" and said the strike should never have gone ahead. He blamed top military officials in the defense ministry for not fully informing him at the time.
He said Bundeswehr chief of staff Wolfgang Schneiderhand and a state secretary in the defense ministry Peter Wichert, were sacked for withholding vital documents from him and that he had lost trust in them. He denied the two were "scapegoats" used to divert attention from his own mistakes.
"It's good that this is out of the way now and that we can return to a serious debate about our strategy in Afghanistan," said Guttenberg after Thursday's questioning.
"I've said it before; I won't be blown off course that easily by the odd political storm. That's the way I was raised, and I'll stick to my convictions."
Inquiry to last until the end of the year
Guttenberg maintained that he did not know about civilian casualties, despite a Red Cross Report which mentioned dead civilians. Guttenberg said he had not been in a position to obtain immediate confirmation from a second source.
The chairman of the inquiry, Susanne Kastner of the opposition Social Democrat (SPD), said other witnesses will be called to provide the full picture.
"On May 6th the inquiry will go into the next round, " said Kastner.
"We need to decide who else must appear before the panel. Chancellor Angela Merkel may well be summoned during the course of the year, because we also need to know what the chancellery knew and how quickly information that was available was passed on."
Earlier this week, prosecutors absolved Colonel Georg Klein of any wrongdoing. Klein had requested the NATO airstrike against the hijacked fuel tankers. The inquiry is now set to continue until the end of this year.
The defense minister at the time of the airstrike, Franz Josef Jung, was forced to resign from his new position as labor minister after just one month over the way the public was informed about the attack. Guttenberg succeeded Jung as defense minister. When news emerged that the airstrike had killed more than 140 people, many began to doubt whether Guttenberg had revealed all that he knew to the public.