- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s labor minister resigned Friday after conceding that he didn’t see a military report on a deadly September airstrike in northern Afghanistan while he held the government’s defense portfolio.

Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung made the announcement a day after the head of Germany’s armed forces, Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and deputy Defense Minister Peter Wichert also stepped down.

Jung said he was taking responsibility for the fact that the German military report on the Sept. 4 airstrike didn’t reach him, despite his being defense minister at the time.

“I am taking responsibility for the Defense Ministry’s internal information policy toward the minister regarding the events of Sept. 4 in Kunduz,” Jung said in a brief statement.

An Afghan commission has said 30 civilians were killed along with 69 armed Taliban fighters in the NATO airstrike, which was called in by a German colonel who feared the Taliban might use two tanker trucks they had seized to attack troops.

Germany’s response — the resignation of three senior officials — could be seen as severe for a NATO country in the 8-year-old Afghanistan war. However, Germany, whose troops serve in Afghanistan’s relatively stable north, previously had been largely spared such incidents. It also was an embarrassment weeks after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, had ordered commanders be sure any targets were clear of civilians before any airstrike.

For days after the strike, Jung said there was no evidence of civilian casualties from the strike, but Bild daily reported Thursday that the military report — drawn up in the days after the attack — suggested civilians had died.

The newspaper did not say how it had learned of the contents of the confidential report.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has called for full transparency over the incident, voiced “very great respect” for Jung’s decision. She said it showed his dedication to “service to the country.”

Jung, a member of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, did little to satisfy critics when he defended himself in parliament late Thursday.

He said Schneiderhan had asked him in October for clearance to send the military police report to NATO, and he agreed. But Jung himself did not see the report, and said he had no “concrete knowledge” of its contents.

He insisted Friday that “I correctly informed both the public and parliament about what I knew.” Jung moved to the Labor Ministry last month as Merkel embarked on her second term.

The new defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, said he had seen the material only on Wednesday, and may need to reassess the airstrike.

“I will make a new evaluation of the incident in Kunduz, because we could of course get a different picture now from the reports,” Guttenberg told reporters after appearing before parliament’s defense committee.

Earlier this month, Guttenberg said a separate, classified NATO report concluded there were “procedural errors” in the airstrike, but that the colonel’s decision to request was “appropriate in military terms.” He said he assumed there were civilian victims based on his assessment of the report prepared by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops in northern Afghanistan, and 36 have died there.

Merkel said Jung would be replaced as labor minister by fellow conservative Ursula von der Leyen, who has been minister for families since 2005.

Von der Leyen’s current job will go to Kristina Koehler, a 32-year-old Christian Democratic Union lawmaker.

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