German General, Minister Resign Over Bombing In Afghanistan

Germany's Deputy Defense Minister and highest army officer have resigned over a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians.

Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg announced Thursday the resignation of his deputy Peter Wichert and Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan at the opening of a parliamentary debate on the German military deployment in Afghanistan.

Some media reports say the top soldier was relieved of his duties after investigation exposed his failure to provide proper information about the incident.

A pre-dawn aerial bombing in September by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) targeting Taliban militants who hijacked two fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan had killed nearly 90 people, including civilians, raising a controversy.

The trucks carrying supplies from Tajikistan to NATO forces in Kabul got stuck in the mud while crossing the Kunduz River. The militants decided to empty the tankers and local people flocked to take some of the fuel. At this time, NATO jets fired at the tankers causing a huge explosion.

Reports quoting an Afghan police officer said about 40 civilians who were siphoning fuel from the trucks were charred to death in the blast.

The resignation comes a day after Germany announced an increase in its development aid to Afghanistan by 52 million euros ($78 million).

Germany is the third-biggest contributor to the NATO-led ISAF fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Germany has so far lost 36 soldiers on its Afghan mission prompting former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to propose withdrawal of German troops as early as 2011.

However, Chancellor Angela Merkel is opposed to the idea.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has ruled out discussion on increasing German troop numbers until the NATO strategy in Afghanistan was made clear.

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