Germany’s Top General Quits over Afghan War Cover-Up of Civilian Killings; US Implications

Days before President Obama escalates the American presence in Afghanistan, Germany’s military chief of staff (General Wolfgang Schneiderhan) and his top aide (Peter Wichert) have resigned over accusations that the German military suppressed evidence of the death of dozens of civilians in an airstrike that killed 142 people. General Schneiderhan’s resignation not only is shaking the Merkel government in Germany, it has raised resistance in Germany (and perhaps other Nato countries) to their involvement in Afghanistan just as Obama seeks more troops from them. In late breaking news found below and reported by the authoritative Deutsche Welle, top politicians in Germany are now calling for a rethink of their role in Afghanistan and a quick exit strategy. In short, the Germans appear reluctant to play "the poodle role" to Obama.

The whole sordid tale of civilian killings and military and political coverups at the highest levels has also undermined the very reasons for escalation of Obama’s "good war". It shows there is no such thing as a "good war" in Afghanistan. What has become Obama’s war will undermine freedom, democracy and progressive causes at home too.

Germany’s mass circulation newspaper, Bild ("The Picture") broke the story. Bild has a huge article with a video of the bombing and lots of pictures over at its German language website under the headline (my translation from the German of this headline): "The Night of bombing Kunduz: In This way was the Scandal Covered up". This is all summed up well in English by the respected Der Spiegel ("The Mirror"online.

Germany’s highest-ranking soldier has resigned over allegations that the Defense Ministry did not come clean about civilians killed in a recent air strike in Afghanistan. Former Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is also under pressure to resign.

…[General Schneiderhan] resigned in response to allegations that the German Defense Ministry concealed information about civilian casualties sustained during an air strike in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told the German parliament, the Bundestag, on Thursday morning that Bundeswehr Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the highest-ranking officer in Germany’s armed forces, had asked to be relieved of his official duties. Guttenberg said that Peter Wichert, a state secretary in the Defense Ministry, would also resign.

…German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg…largely confirmed allegations about the air strike that were published in the Thursday edition of the mass circulation newspaper Bild. He conceded that his predecessor Franz Josef Jung, who is now Germany’s labor minister, had withheld important information about the Sept. 4 air strike in Afghanistan which was ordered by a German colonel, Georg Klein.

Bild referred to "confidential" Bundeswehr reports about the attack and claimed to have obtained a video of the air strike from one of the participating US fighter jets. The air strike took place in the early hours of Sept. 4. At the request of the German Bundeswehr, US jets dropped bombs on two tanker trucks that had been seized by the Taliban and were stuck in a riverbed near Kunduz. According to NATO, up to 142 people were killed and wounded in the air strike, including 30 to 40 civilians.

Jung is accused of withholding information about the civilian casualties sustained in the attack. In the days after the air strike, he often repeated that there had been no civilian causalities and that the situation on the ground before the attack had been clear. He claimed it had been unambiguous that the people surrounding the tanker had all been Taliban militants.

But according to the documents that Bild referred to, it was already clear at an early stage that there had been civilian casualties. The German regional command in Mazar-i-Sharif had apparently reported back to Bundeswehr headquarters in Potsdam on the evening of Sept. 4 that there were clear indications of civilian casualties. There were also reports of children being admitted to hospital in Kunduz in connection with the air strike, the documents said. The Defense Ministry had also apparently received reports that the Taliban had forced civilians to help try to get the tankers out of the river bed where they had become stuck.

There were already calls on Thursday morning for Jung to resign. "Anyone who has so crudely lied to the public as Jung cannot be allowed to continue in a ministerial position," said Omid Nouripour, spokesperson on security issues for the Greens. "He has massively damaged the credibility of the German mission in Afghanistan."

Deutsche Welle, an official source of information supported by the German government that broadcasts worldwide on radio and television and has a website, reports that the resignations have caused a "political earthquake in Berlin." Says Deutsche Welle (in translation, the "Wavelength of Germany"):

The German parliament spent ten hours debating and conferring on the airstrike, and many commentators believe that Jung’s position is now untenable. Chancellor Angela Merkel conspicuously failed to support Jung in a Thursday press conference held with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and she called for a full inquiry into the issue.

"I’ve always said that if we want to win confidence, we have to have full transparency," Merkel told reporters. Guttenberg announced Schneiderhan’s resignation in parliament on Thursday as a debate began on Germany’s military deployment in Afghanistan."

So, this whole affair, in which countless civilians were killed in an airstrike called by the German army in Afghanistan but carried out by the United States Air Force, has led to the resignation of Germany’s top generals, will likely force out the former Defense head and current Cabinet Secretary as Minister of Labor (Franz Joseph Jung) and has raised a debate over the entire course of the German mission in Afghanistan.

Why is this story coming out of Germany important?

First of all, this story underscores the old saying that the first victim of any war is the truth. Expect more lying and cover-ups coming from all nations in Afghanistan; General McCrystal is a master of lies already as witnessed by his past involvement in Pat Tillman’s death and his role in prison camps that tortured people.

Secondly, it shows that NATO support for the fight in Afghanistan, which Obama so desperately seeks and needs, is fragile and unlikely to be realistic over the long term. Obama will likely lie about strong NATO support and the support of other countries when he addresses the American people next week just as Bush lied about the "coalition" in Iraq. The truth is, people of almost all nations want nothing to do with this bloodbath.

Hence, The New York Times, reporting on this story, notes that:

The United States is trying to persuade its NATO allies to send 10,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s strategy for the region, despite the growing unpopularity in Europe of the eight-year-old war. Germany has roughly 4,300 soldiers there, the third largest in the NATO force after the United States with 68,000 military personnel in the country, and Britain with 9,000.

At the news conference with Mrs. Merkel on Thursday, Mr. Rasmussen urged European alliance members to support the expected plan to increase troop levels. “It is of the utmost importance that an American announcement of an increased troop number in Afghanistan is followed by additional troop contributions from other allies,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

While Obama and his administration are pressuring NATO countries to send more bodies to Afghanistan, the reality of the war in Afghanistan as demonstrated by the German military involvement in civilian deaths and the coverup of that event by both military and political leaders, is having the reverse effect. In late breaking news, Deutsche Welle further reports that in a key reversal, top German leaders are calling for a quick exit strategy in Afghanistan. Germany’s Defense Minister, fresh from a trip to Afghanistan has said that German needs to reassess why it was in Afghanistan and how long it would remain there. German’s Foreign Minister has gone even farther:

Later on Sunday night, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats (FDP), went further during a television appearance. “We need to get to the point during this four-year legislative term that we are ready to talk about a potential exit strategy in Afghanistan. We don’t want to be there forever," said Westerwelle.

Westerwelle’s demand for a withdrawal plan within the next four years actually squared with that of the new CDU-FDP coalition’s old rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD).

Deutsche Welle further notes that German Chancellor Merkel seems "on board" with these ideas and concludes:

The FDP, the CDU and the SPD are all beginning to talk exit strategy, joining the an already vocal "pull-out now" faction represented by the Left party. The withdrawal debate in Germany is changing, and could be on a course that sees Germany getting out of Afghanistan earlier than many had thought.

This is excellent news for those Americans opposed to an escalation in Afghanistan which will surely kill off any real reform in this country. It’s bad news for Rahm and Obama and other hawks so it will be interesting to see if Obama talks about these developments in Germany at all in his call for more soldiers next week. (NOTE: kudos to poster shekissesfrogs who called my attention to this development in a post below). I doubt it and suspect Obama will skirt the enormous opposition in Europe to the Afghanistan war and talk in vague platitudes and outright lies as is his usual style.

Thirdly, this kind of story completely undercuts the entire rationale for Obama’s "good war" and sounds very much like the kind of reports that were coming out of Vietnam in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Vietnam war was LBJ’s fiasco, Afghanistan will be Obama’s. The upcoming Obama escalation in Afghanistan will have implications not only in that war-torn country but will have political, social and economic consequences back home. Do the Democrats really want to stand before the American people in the next couple of elections in the same way that Bush and his Republicans did in 2006 and 2008? It is time for progressives and liberals of all kind but particularly those in the Democratic Party, people like Russ Feingold and David Obey, to not only question but to actively oppose Obama’s escalation of the war.

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