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Top German Officials Quit Over Afghan Airstrike

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Top German Officials Quit Over Afghan Airstrike

Europe

Top German Officials Quit Over Afghan Airstrike

Top German Officials Quit Over Afghan Airstrike

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The head of Germany's armed forces and a senior official from the defense ministry resigned Thursday following allegations the ministry withheld information about civilian casualties sustained during an airstrike in Afghanistan in September. Christian Thiels, senior defense correspondent for the German television network ARD, says the two officials who resigned knew of the civilian casualties.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

There was a major military shakeup in Germany today, the repercussions from a deadly air strike in Afghanistan back in September. The head of Germany's armed forces, and a senior official from the defense ministry, were both forced to resign. This after reports emerged that the military withheld information about civilian casualties in that attack.

Joining us to talk about the latest developments is Christian Thiels. He's senior defense correspondent for the German television network ARD. And Mr. Thiels, this goes back to an air strike on September 4th ordered by a German commander, a strike on two tanker trucks that had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents. What happened next?

Mr. CHRISTIAN THIELS (Senior Defense Correspondent, ARD, German Television Network): Well, the German colonel in the camp in Kundus thought these fuel trucks to be a major threat to his camp and his soldiers because they could have been transformed into what you might call a rolling fuel bomb. So he ordered in the air strike by (unintelligible) planes, carried out by F15 fighter planes from the U.S. Air Force because he didn't enough ground personnel to tackle the Taliban fighters.

BLOCK: And apparently, as many as 142 people killed in that attack. And now, it's believed dozens of civilians died as well. At first, the German military denied that there were any civilian casualties. The two military officials who resigned today, did they know about the civilian casualties? Did they cover it up?

Mr. THIELS: They did know about it, even in the evening of the air strike they had reports from German military police that in the hospital of the German armed forces in Kundus, people were treated - very young people, children were treated for injuries they had during that air strike.

So everybody knew from that report that there were civilian casualties, wounded civilians. And these two major officials, the general inspector of the German armed forces - he didn't tell the secretary of defense what's in that report, although he did tell him that there is such a report. But he didn't tell him the content.

BLOCK: Mr. Thiels, these resignations are coming at a time of great debate over military involvement in Afghanistan, not just here in the U.S. but also there in Germany. Your parliament has to decide whether to extend Germany's mandate to fight in Afghanistan. Your country has about 4,300 troops there now. What is the tone of that debate?

Mr. THIELS: Well, the tone is getting sharper in that debate. The public really wants to know what's happening in Afghanistan. The new appointed secretary of defense, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg - he said that in Afghanistan, we do face a war-like situation. That's a new wording because his predecessor always said, well, that's just a stabilization situation in Afghanistan - not a war, definitely not a war. So, the discussion is really fueling on these situations in Kundus and on the air strike discussion.

BLOCK: President Obama is going to be speaking on the Afghan War on Tuesday, expected to announce that tens of thousands more U.S. troops will be sent there with the hopes that NATO countries will also send more troops. Do you think Germany will agree?

Mr. THIELS: Secretary of Defense Guttenberg said today that he does not see any need to send more troops to Afghanistan. But everybody knows in the security environment here in Berlin that this discussion will absolutely for sure come as early as - probably in January next year because well, we're close to Christmas now, so nobody really wants to have a big discussion within the German government, which just new - formed. But next year, they will definitely talk about it. And we can hear from security officials within the department of defense that there will probably be a rise in personnel numbers for Afghanistan from the German side.

BLOCK: Christian Thiels is senior defense correspondent for the German television network ARD. Mr. Thiels, thank you very much.

Mr. THIELS: A pleasure.

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