Pressure mounts on Guttenberg over air strike
German Defence Minister Pressure Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Wednesday faced mounting political pressure over a botched air strike in Afghanistan, following a report he was aware early on it caused several civilian casualties.
Citing a “top secret” assessment by the International Red Cross, weekly magazine Stern said the bombardment in northern Afghanistan in September contravened international law due to the high number of non-combatants it killed.
An addendum to the report listed the names of 74 civilians – including several children aged between eight and 12 – that died in the air strike called by German Col. Georg Klein to destroy two fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban near the city of Kunduz.
Stern said Guttenberg received the report on November 6 – hours before he called the bombardment “militarily appropriate” during his first press conference as defence minister.
But the Red Cross said it was “unlikely” that the fuel trucks ever could have been converted into rolling bombs to attack German troops in Afghanistan and there was no “imminent threat” for a nearby German base.
Guttenberg admitted last week the air strike had not been justified, however, he told parliament Klein had faced “warlike circumstances” when he decided to call in NATO air support.
But Der Spiegel magazine reported over the weekend that US fighter pilots had attempted to convince Klein and his air control officer to allow them to scare away people with several low-flying passes over the trucks.
Guttenberg’s spokesman Steffen Moritz rejected on Wednesday that the Stern report raised questions about the minister’s earlier statements. But it will certainly increase pressure on Guttenberg at an upcoming parliamentary inquiry into the incident.