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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Germany's top soldier quits over Afghanistan raid .

Germany's top soldier has resigned over allegations of a cover-up related to a deadly Nato air strike in Afghanistan.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan's move followed reports that key information about the 4 September action was withheld, the defence minister said.

The strike, which was ordered by a German commander, targeted two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban militants.

But dozens of civilians were also killed in the attack, which happened in the northern province of Kunduz.

Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told parliament that Gen Schneiderhan had failed to provide proper information about the incident and had "released himself from his duties at his own request".

Another senior Defence Ministry official, Peter Wichert, has also resigned.

The announcement came as Germany's parliament debated whether to extend its military mission in Afghanistan, amid growing domestic opposition to involvement in the conflict.

Secret video

Taliban fighters had seized the tankers while they were being driven from Tajikistan to supply Nato forces in Kabul.

Reports said that villagers were taking fuel from the tankers when the strike happened.

It is not clear exactly how many civilians died. The independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor group put the number of civilians deaths at 70. The Afghan government later said that at least 100 people died, of whom 30 were civilians.

The resignations were announced hours after a German newspaper, Bild, published a report alleging key information over the incident had been withheld.

Citing a confidential army video and a military report, it said they showed that the German commander who ordered the strike, Col Georg Klein, had not been able to rule out the presence of civilians at the scene before he took action.

The newspaper said the report proved the defence ministry had been told there were clear indications of civilian casualties by the evening of 4 September.

But it said former defence minister Franz Josef Jung continued to state for several days that there was no evidence civilians had been killed.

It is not yet clear whether Mr Jung, who is now labour minister following September's elections, was aware of the report and the video.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent after the US and Britain.

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