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Kunduz air raid: Senior German officials resign.

Germany's highest army officer and a senior Defence Ministry official resigned over a controversial strike in northern Kunduz province that killed as many as 142 people, it was announced Thursday.

The resignations followed press reports that information about the September 4 strike ordered by a German commander was withheld. Chief of staff General Wolfgang Schneiderhan and State Secretary Peter Wichert were accused of failing to properly pass on information to political leaders about the strike.

The commander, Colonel Georg Klein, called in the NATO airstrike against two fuel tankers seized by Taliban insurgents, fearing they could be used to attack troops. The strike is believed to have killed militants and between 30 and 40 civilians.

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 German parliament was opening its debate on the country's military deployment in Afghanistan, with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (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 Hindu Kush.

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 air strike 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, which 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 on 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 on Thursday that there would be no discussion of increasing German troop numbers until the NATO strategy in Afghanistan was clear.

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Publication:Pajhwok Afghan News (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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