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German Cabinet official resigns over Afghan airstrike

Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung, a former defense minister, accepts responsibility for the government's withholding of information about an operation that killed Afghan civilians.

November 28, 2009|By Kate Connolly
  • German Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung officially resigns from office at a press conference in Berlin. Jung, who was Defense minister when Afghan civilians were killed in a German airstrike, took responsibility for the withholding of information about the operation. He said he was afraid news of civilian deaths would weaken public support for the Afghan effort.
German Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung officially resigns from office… (Michael Kappeler / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Berlin — A top German official resigned Friday after admitting that the government had withheld information about Afghan civilian casualties after a NATO airstrike.

Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung, who until recently was Germany's defense minister, said he took "political responsibility for the internal communication policy" of his former ministry.

His departure came just one day after the resignation of Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the army's chief of staff, and Peter Wichert, deputy defense minister, over the German-ordered airstrike, the deadliest operation involving German troops since World War II.

The three resignations followed the leaking of politically embarrassing video footage of the airstrike and military police reports of the September incident in which 142 insurgents and civilians died. The authenticity of the information, which was given to a German tabloid, was confirmed by Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

The video images taken by a U.S. F-15 fighter showed a large group of people gathered around two gasoline trucks that had become stuck in a riverbed near the town of Kunduz after being hijacked by the Taliban. The footage showed locals, including children, siphoning gasoline from the trucks before the airstrike.

Jung, then the Defense minister, had tried to play down the fact that civilians were in the area because he feared it would weaken the already waning public support in Germany for the Afghanistan campaign.

The debacle comes just days before President Obama is expected to announce the deployment of additional U.S. troops to the region. Germany, which has 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also are expected to offer more troops.

According to reports, the U.S. would like an additional 1,500 German troops.

Despite opposition protests, the German parliament is expected to extend the mandate of the current troops in Afghanistan. But it will have trouble convincing an increasingly skeptical public of the merits of boosting troop numbers.

Before accepting Jung's resignation, Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that "transparency" was vital if support for the mission was to be maintained.

But with no goal having yet been set for withdrawal, and after the public relations disaster of the airstrike, many Germans are questioning the mission. It was sold to them as a stabilizing effort, but is now referred to unequivocally as a war.

Connolly is a special correspondent.

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