Pressure builds on German defense minister | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.12.2009
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Pressure builds on German defense minister

The German government and the opposition are locked in a protracted dispute following a September airstrike in Afghanistan. The handling of information by defense chief Guttenberg is the chief bone of contention.

Guttenberg next to emergeny exit sign in airplane (Source: AP)

Defense minister Guttenberg has a lot of explaining to do, opposition parties say

Faced with severe criticism from opposition parties in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg struck back. The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) were engaging in "wild clamoring" and are staging a "political circus" he said in the Bundestag on Wednesday.

Olaf Scholz, the SPD's deputy chairman had accused Guttenberg of deceiving parliament over what he knew of the events surrounding the September 4 airstrike. Guttenberg was also put on the defensive by Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the former military chief of staff who stepped down over the affair several weeks ago.

Opposition questions Guttenberg U-turn

Schneiderhan and Jung sitting next to each other (Source: AP)

Political fallout: Fomer defense chief Jung (r.) and military chief inspector Schneiderhan lost their jobs over the affair

Schneiderhan, in a interview with the weekly Die Zeit, charged his former boss with "not telling the truth" about the circumstances of his sacking. The 38-year-old Guttenberg had fired the four star general for allegedly withholding vital information on the airstrike.

However, German news magazine "Stern" quoted from the top general's resignation letter essentially confirming Guttenberg's version of events. In the letter, Schneiderhan admits that he did "not pass on all reports to the minister." It was only after these reports reached his office that Guttenberg revised his view on the strike which before he had called "militarily appropriate."

The opposition still considers Guttenberg's U-turn puzzling. The report initially available to the minister "already contained all the information which now leads him to the opposite conclusion" that the strike was inappropriate, the SPD's Scholz said.

Parliamentary investigation underway

Burned-out wreck of a truck (Source: AP)

The Nato-strike called in by a German colonel left at least 142 people dead, many of them civilians

A parliamentary inquiry got underway on Wednesday charged with investigating the events of September 4, when a German commander called in a raid near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed up to 142 people, including an unknown number of civilians. The German officer in charge could face criminal charges over what was the deadliest German military action since World War II. In Berlin, one minister and several military top brass have already lost their jobs over the strike and the mishandling of information in its aftermath.

Contrary to previous reports, it was revealed Wednesday that Merkel's government had concrete information about civilian casualties, military errors and targeted killing regarding the airstrike before Germany's general elections at the end of September.

However, a report by Col. Georg Klein, who ordered the NATO strike, was only passed on to the chancellor five days after it reached the ministry of defense a member of Guttenberg's staff has admitted.

Merkel has not yet addressed parliament over the airstrike, and opposition parties are accusing the government of trying to hide behind the parliamentary investigation.

"The chancellor must tell parliament and the public the truth about the airstrike in Afghanistan", Scholz told the daily Hamburger Abendblatt on Thursday.

The work of the parliamentary commission investigating the matter could drag on. So far the members of the panel have not been able to agree on the order in which witnesses are to be called.

rri/afp/ap/dpaEditor: Sean Sinico

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