On September 4 German Col. Georg Klein ordered an air strike on two fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban. Up to 142 people – many of them civilians – were killed in the bombing, but the Defence Ministry was slow to admit there were civilian casualties. Since then, the political fallout has included top-level resignations and accusations of cover-ups.
Omid Nouripour told The Local this week that he plans to help make sure the public finds out what really happened that night and who was responsible for the information debacle that followed.
What is happening with the parliamentary investigation into the air strike?
The work has begun, and we will question the first witnesses in January – the first of whom will be Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Many people will be questioned and there’s a good chance we’ll find out the truth by comparing statements. And it’s a criminal offence if they lie.
What mistakes has the Defence Ministry made on this issue?
Under then Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung they tried to cover up the fact that there were civilian victims. They did not inform the parliament. It’s not clear yet whether the leadership of the ministry was integrated into the chain of command or not. If they weren’t, that is a problem – and if they were, then why did they feed us such rubbish for weeks?
Was it right for Jung and army chief Wolfgang Schneiderhan to step down?
Jung stepped down because he told untruths. Schniederhan was let go – the grounds for which he disputes. Minister Guttenberg says that Schneiderhan did not inform him well, but Schneiderhan says he did. This will be one of the central questions in the investigative committee.
There have been accusations that Guttenberg may have also lied about which documents he saw when. What is your take on this?
I think the minister must clarify some things for us. Particularly how on December 6 he told the public that the September 4 air strike was ‘appropriate’ and necessary. I still find this incomprehensible.
Because you and other parliamentarians all saw the same documents that were available to him at that time and came to a different conclusion?
We all saw the documents simultaneously. And I definitely did not come to the same conclusion then or now, based on this information.
The US plans to significantly increase troop numbers in Afghanistan and has expressed an interest in more German troops – do you support this?
No, I’d like to see what we need them for. I’ve had a lot to do with the military in recent months and to be honest, and I don’t see where we need them. If the government wants more troops then they’ll have to explain why. We need more security in the Kunduz area, but for that we don’t need more troops, we can bring them from other places where they aren’t needed as much. We also need more Afghan police.
Over the weekend Guttenberg said that a dialogue with moderate Taliban members may help the situation in Afghanistan. Do you agree?
I agree if it’s with Taliban members who are willing to accept the Afghan constitution, specifically with people on a local level. But there are some who don’t want to talk.
You were in Afghanistan two weeks ago. What was your experience there?
It was extremely short, I’d like to go back again soon. I was able to talk with some Afghans and with some of our troops, and I can report that the uncertainty is great among our soldiers. They do not agree with all of the discussion going on in Germany. And this is very, very bad, because they are the ones who go out and put their lives on the line daily. They have the feeling from the bombardment discussion that the public does not support them, and we will have make a point of clarifying everything during the investigation without damaging the Bundeswehr.
Do you use the taboo word ‘war’ to describe the situation there?
Of course. There are regions in Afghanistan where there is war. I’ve always been confused as to why Jung distorted the expression. There are 43 other nations involved in the mission there and none of them avoid the phrase.
How do you interpret Chancellor Angela Merkel’s relative silence on the air strike scandal?
In the last few years we’ve experienced a chancellor who used the word ‘Afghanistan’ once in the Bundestag – this in a situation where we have 4,500 troops on the ground there. The chancellor is not leading. We have a major lack of leadership on the question. And that she is pushing the question away is a continuation of the previous duck-and-cover policy.
You were recently quoted as saying that Guttenberg seemed ”thin-skinned and nervous” during a parliamentary session. What did you mean exactly?
He was being criticised pretty hard by the opposition – but rightfully in many ways, I think. And then he said that he was being criticised as a soldier was dying of gunshot wound to the stomach. This is just thin-skinned and nervous to reject criticism in the name of soldiers’ well-being. It’s unfair. He promised full clarification of the issue and since then all of the new information has come out via the newspapers.