Defense minister refuses to resign over Afghan airstrike


German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said he did not wrongly force the resignation of two top military officials, and attacked opposition leaders calling for his resignation.

Speaking on Germany’s RTL television network on Sunday evening, Guttenberg said the claims brought against him would not move him to step down as the country’s minister of defense.

“Even if it gets really stormy, I will stay right where I am,” he said. “That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I’m going to deal with it.”

Guttenberg also rounded on opposition leaders Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democratic Party and Green party leader Juergen Trittin, accusing them of hypocrisy.

Gabriel and Trittin had called for his resignation earlier for failing to inform the public of key details from the NATO report on a deadly airstrike in Afghanistan on two hijacked oil tankers.

These details included the fact that the airstrike, ordered by a German colonel on September 4, had been directed against the people near the oil tankers and not the vehicles themselves.

But Guttenberg said that Gabriel and Trittin had themselves had access to the NATO report since November 6, and had not seen fit to reveal these details either.

Earlier, he told public broadcaster ARD that he had not withheld information regarding the attack, which is believed to have killed and injured dozens of civilians.

Accumulating resignations

He said the two officials – the head of Germany’s armed forces, General Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, and Deputy Defense Minister Peter Wichert – who had resigned over the affair, had done so for failing to provide him with crucial details about the Kunduz airstrike.

But Schneiderhahn told ARD that all the important information about the attack was contained in a report by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He said Guttenberg had had access to the report when he took office after the September federal election, and that he knew what was in it when, on November 6, he told the public that he considered the attack “militarily appropriate.”

Common knowledge?

Monday’s edition of the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said Colonel Georg Klein told Schneiderhahn that he had requested the NATO air strike to destroy a pair of hijacked tanker trucks and any insurgents on board.

Citing ministerial sources, the newspaper went on to say the report of the attack was passed on to then Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung within two days of it happening and became common knowledge in the upper echelons of the ministry soon thereafter.

Change of tack

The controversy surrounding the military strike has caused a political storm during which Guttenberg has reversed his position on what happened. He has shifted from calling the strike “appropriate” to “inappropriate,” prompting calls from many German politicians for more information.

Opposition parties want a parliamentary committee hearing to secure full disclosure of the events preceding the airstrike.

Gabriel said the explanations offered by the government so far were insufficient. “Every day, new and more dramatic information comes to light through the media,” he said.

Gabriel also said that Guttenberg should think of resigning over the affair given that his predecessor, Franz Josef Jung, was forced to quit after the revelations about the airstrike in Kunduz triggered a row over a cover-up.

The SPD chairman also accused the government of turning the German army into an aggressive “interventionist army” in Afghanistan.