Friday, November 27, 2009

Resignations over Kunduz Airstrike

In the last couple days, several senior German officials have resigned over the handling of the crisis following the September airstrike near Kunduz. Since I'm not an expert on German politics, I asked my favorite German to explain.

First, the facts: on Thursday, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, General Wolfgang Schneiderhan resigned. At the same time, the number 2 at the German Defense Ministry, State Secretary Peter Wichert, also tendered his resignation. The explanation: that both officials had withheld information not only from the public, but also from the civilian prosecutor charged with investigating the incident.

Then, today, the former Minister of Defense (who assumed the leadership of the Ministry of the Ministry of Labor following the elections) also resigned. This time, Franz Josef Jung explained his decision by saying he "accepted political responsibility" for mishandling information.

A couple points of interest: first, this is the most significant resignation in the German Ministry of Defense, more significant than resignations following spy scandals and the like. No former minister, number 2 civilian and number 1 military officials have ever resigned en masse. Second, both the military and civilian leadership had come under fire because they continued to insist on their version of the "facts", namely that no civilians had been killed in the strike.

Third, it now turns out that while the officials were asserting that no civilians had been killed, they in fact knew, because the military chain of command told them so, that the Colonel who had ordered the strike had in fact been unable to rule out the presence of civilians at the location of the strike. In short, the officials were lying. They lied to the German public, which already has an unfavorable opinion of the mission if Afghanistan. And, they lied to the local prosecutors charged with investigating homicide. Now the latter is a problem because lying to local prosecutors and withholding information is a possible criminal offense.

Multiple investigations are ongoing. First, as I mentioned, the local prosecutor is investigating, as it normally does whenever German troops kill host nation citizens. That investigation has, for now, been handed over to federal prosecutors who are now looking into the potential for crimes associated with the strike. Finally, the German parliament is also investigating, this time the incident itself and the conduct of the ministry of defense surrounding the incident.

In a hearing before the German parliament yesterday, the former defense minister apparently admitted that he never read the German military's classified report on the incident and simply forwarded it to NATO investigators. This curious lack of diligence apparently further sealed his fate.

Why does this matter? Because it shows a high potential for further fraying of German support to continued presence in Afghanistan. This also puts the new defense minister in a rough spot, particularly as he works to reinforce Germany's presence in the north, with both additional troops and heavier equipment.


  1. Can the support be frayed any further? I mean, it's a very unpopular war in Germany, already, isn't it? I suppose you mean it will put even further pressure on the new strategy, whatever that will be?

  2. Lil, Germany is considering increasing its number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 7,000.

    They are also ramping up their contribution to NTM-A, OMLTs and POMLTss.

  3. Anand -- So? American support for the war can be said to be fraying, and we're considering increasing troop numbers as well. So I'm not sure this is relevant.

  4. "Can the support be frayed any further?"
    (1) In parliament, as this affair might give the left of the SPD an excuse for backing down from their committment. After the horrible elections, they are desperate to reappeal to their left wing voters.
    (2) So far, most conservative voters still backed the Afghanistan mission or didn't bother much. However, the MSM is now blowing this thing completely out of proportion, eroding this support, which bothers the current conservative Chancellor more than the level of resistance among lefties.

    BTW, from what I've read, the report by a German MP made on the next day didn't include relevant information that had not already been aired in another (ISAF) report. Of course Jung should still have read it (and not rely on hearsay), but it's not the huge scandal our MSM are successfully trying to produce. MSM headlines also stopped differentiating between killed Taliban, supporters and "normal" civilians - all are now "civilians", as they didn't were uniform ...

    That said, Jung should have been fired a long time ago, since he was largely responsible for treating the Afghanistan mission as a police operation (of course, his boss and parliament share the blame; but it would have been his job to fight for his troops in Berlin). This scandal comes at an (in)convenient time, as the new defense minister is trying to put the operation on a new legal footing, talking instead about (in legalese) civil WAR and the need for appropriate reactions.
    The transfer of the case to the federal prosecutor must be seen is this light: If the bombing was an act of war, the federal prosecutor can declare himself solely competent by stating that there is suspicion of a war crime. If later on he determines that there was no war crime and shelves the investigation, to my knowledge the state prosecutors remain barred from investigating the matters ...

  5. Ah, thanks for the clarification, Positroll.

  6. Madhu, that's exactly what I was going to say...