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Ex-military officials raise pressure on Guttenberg

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Ex-military officials raise pressure on Guttenberg
Former Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Wolfgang Schneiderhan. Photo: DPA
09:21 CET+01:00
Pressure on Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is rising after two former military officials contradicted him at parliamentary inquiry, saying they did not fail to provide him with adequate information on a controversial air strike in Afghanistan.

Ex-Bundeswehr Chief of Staff General Wolfgang Schneiderhan and senior Defence Ministry official Peter Wichert, who both were forced to resign over the affair, appeared before the commission to explain what information they provided for Guttenberg following the September 4, 2009 bombardment.

During several hours of questioning on Thursday, both officials denied all claims that they withheld documents from Guttenberg, insisting that he was in fact well-informed about the incident in which up to 140 people were killed when a German officer ordered an air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban.

Defence expert for the opposition Social Democrats Rainer Arnold told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday morning that Guttenberg found “scapegoats” in the two men, and said that the files which had allegedly been withheld contained no new information.

Meanwhile SPD chief whip Thomas Oppermann told daily Berliner Zeitung on Friday that if Guttenberg lied in regards to leadership decisions, he was no longer “acceptable” as Defence Minister.

Green party defence expert Omid Nouripour told broadcaster ARD that while he did not know if Guttenberg had lied about the affair, he believed that something was “inconsistent,” and said that if the minister himself withheld information his resignation would be unavoidable.

“The fact is that Guttenberg has been incriminated by the two men, and the fact is that he must now answer the many questions on the table,” he said.

Committee member Hellmut Königshaus, a member of junior coalition partner party the Free Democrats, told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that trust had been lost between Guttenberg and his officials.

Königshaus said it wasn't important what was physically presented to Guttenberg in the case, but rather the essence of what was relayed.

Parliamentarians on the commission have said Guttenberg made contradictory statements about his knowledge of the events surrounding the bombardment.

Guttenberg took his post one month after the strike that killed score of civilians. He vowed a thorough investigation into the accusations that his predecessors withheld information about the victims. But further revelations have put Guttenberg under increasing political pressure for his initial assessment of the incident.

While Guttenberg has said he did not have access to information seen by his predecessor Franz-Josef Jung when he declared the bombardment “militarily appropriate,” media reports have said that he in fact had adequate reports.

The parliamentary inquiry is attempting whether military officials adhered to proper rules of engagement and if there was a subsequent cover up in the Defence Ministry.

Jung resigned from his new position as labour minister over the allegations that he hid evidence that civilians had been killed ahead of federal elections.

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