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Germany in Political Turmoil Over Ordering of Deadly Airstrike in Afghanistan

A German soldier leaves on a mission in Afghanistan's Kunduz province, where a strike Friday killed about 100 people.
A German soldier leaves on a mission in Afghanistan's Kunduz province, where a strike Friday killed about 100 people. (By Anja Niedringhaus -- Associated Press)

Markus Kaim, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said that many legislators already distrusted Jung and that his shifting explanations had only worsened his standing.

"Some members of Parliament would like to kill Franz Josef Jung," he said. "He's more or less lying to the German Parliament and the German public."

For years, many German officials have criticized the Pentagon for relying on air power to attack the Taliban without sufficient regard for civilian casualties. But after the bombing in Kunduz, some lawmakers found themselves in the strange position of praising U.S. generals for their restraint while accusing German commanders of recklessness.

"The reaction of General McChrystal was very wise," Juergen Trittin, a senior legislator for the opposition Green Party, said in an interview. "He showed the seriousness of investigating the bombing, and he issued words of regret to the victims. I think he behaved correctly, and I do not understand the reaction of the German government. For a long time, we had wished for such a U.S. commander to be in place."

Regardless of whether most of those killed in the bombing were civilians or Taliban fighters, there was genuine shock among many Germans that one of their military commanders could have been responsible for an attack that killed so many people.

About 4,200 German troops are stationed in Afghanistan, the third-largest foreign contingent, after the those of the United States and Britain. But the German troops are generally restricted from engaging in combat operations and concentrate instead on civilian reconstruction programs.

The government approved sending troops to Afghanistan as part of a peacekeeping operation but officially says it is not involved in a war. The German constitution, adopted after the defeat of the Nazis, prohibits the country from going to war unless it or one of its allies is directly attacked by another state.

"In Afghanistan it is like a war, but for us it is not a war," said Walter Kolbow, a Social Democrat and longtime member of the defense committee in the German Parliament. "It is an important distinction."

The question of whether the mission is really a war peaked in July, after three German soldiers were killed during a clash with the Taliban. The debate is expected to intensify this month with national elections scheduled for Sept. 27.

"We need to realize that this is not a development aid mission in uniform," said Werner Hoyer, a senior legislator with the opposition Free Democrats. "It is a military mission."

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