Top German army officer resigns over Afghan civilian bombing

Berlin, Nov 26 (DPA) Germany’s highest-ranking army officer has resigned over his handling of an Afghan bombing raid which left dozens of civilians dead, it was announced Thursday.

The resignation of General Inspector Wolfgang Schneiderhan was announced by the country’s Defence Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg in parliament at the opening of a debate on the German military deployment in Afghanistan.

The highly controversial Sep 4 airstrike in Kunduz left an unknown number of civilians dead, but generally reckoned to be dozens.

The German parliament was opening its debate on the country’s military deployment in Afghanistan, with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen due in Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel later Thursday.

Germany has up to 4,500 troops in the northern Kunduz region, and operates strict parliamentary control over the activity of its military.

New Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle opened the tense debate by calling for “openness and trust” in relation to army’s deployment in the Hindukush.

The debate was preceded by a report in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper suggesting that the government had not been honest about its knowledge of civilian victims in the German-ordered airstrike in Kunduz.

Bild said that despite having knowledge of the presence of civilian victims in the attack, in which up to 142 people died, former defence minister Franz Josef Jung had initially insisted that there had been none – in newspaper interviews and in parliament.

Defence Minister Guttenberg told parliament that Schneiderhan had offered his resignation himself.

In recent weeks the Kunduz attack has caused outrage in Germany where, according to opinion polls, a majority of the population opposes involvement in the Afghan war.

Last week the German cabinet approved an extension of the mandate there, which must now be voted on by the parliament.

The opposition Social Democrats and Green party immediately threatened to instigate a committee of investigation over the government’s handling of the Kunduz incident.

NATO – and specifically US President Barack Obama – are currently formulating their future strategy for the Afghan conflict, eight years after the US-led invasion.

Obama is expected to announce his strategy Tuesday, which could involve thousands of extra soldiers, and to urge European allies to increase their financial and troop commitment to the war.

Germany’s Westerwelle said Thursday that there would be no discussion of increasing German troop numbers until the NATO strategy in Afghanistan was clear.

An international conference on Afghanistan is planned to take place in London in January 2010.