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German military chief removed over airstrike

The German military's top official is removed for failing to properly pass on information to political leaders about a September airstrike in Afghanistan that killed civilians.
Germany Afghanistan
German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, center, and the inspector general of Germany's military, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, center right, are seen flying into Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month.Michael Kappeler / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The German military's top official was removed Thursday for failing to properly pass on information to political leaders about a September airstrike in Afghanistan that killed civilians.

The new defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, told parliament that the military's inspector general, Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan — the equivalent of chief of staff — had asked to be relieved of his duties.

That came after Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper published what it said were still captures from confidential videos of the incident. Peter Wichert, a deputy defense minister who was in office at the time of the airstrike, also stepped down.

Bild reported that the videos and a confidential military report suggested it was likely civilians were killed, and that they were in German hands at a time when then-Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung was insisting that there was no evidence of civilian victims.

Guttenberg said, however, that Jung had not seen the material, and that he himself had only been shown it on Wednesday. Jung became Germany's labor minister last month.

Airstrike on tanker trucks
A German colonel called in the NATO airstrike against two tanker trucks that had been seized by Taliban insurgents near Kunduz, fearing they could be used to attack troops.

Thirty civilians and 69 armed Taliban died in the strike, according to a probe by an Afghan presidential commission.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "there must be full transparency so that there is confidence in this deployment."

Jung, who faced calls from some opposition lawmakers to quit the government, defended himself in parliament later Thursday. He said, "I correctly informed both the public and parliament about what I knew regarding these events."

Earlier this month, Guttenberg said a classified NATO report concluded there were "procedural errors" in the Sept. 4 airstrike, but defended the decision by the colonel to request it as "appropriate in military terms."

Regrets ‘every civilian victim’
At the time, Guttenberg said he assumed there were civilian victims, based on his assessment of the NATO report.

"I regret ... every civilian victim deeply," he said.

The report was prepared by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, appointed a Canadian major general to lead the investigation along with officers from the U.S. Air Force and German military.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops serving in northern Afghanistan and 36 have been killed in the mission.

Guttenberg has taken a plain-talking approach to the unpopular mission in Afghanistan since taking over the Defense Ministry after September elections.

He has acknowledged that the situation in parts of Afghanistan is "similar to war" — a description Jung always avoided.