German Defence Minister in Afghanistan after civilian killings

Zu Guttenberg first said the raid was "justified", but later reversed his position, declaring the strike was militarily mistake.

German Defence Minister in Afghanistan after civilian killings

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Friday, as anger at home grew over a September air strike that claimed scores of Afghan lives.

The Sept. 4 strike was the most deadly attack involving German troops since World War Two.

Earlier this week, German Defence Ministry officials began to discuss compensation levels for civilian victims of the September 4 attack, in which up to 142 people were killed.

Zu Guttenberg first said the raid was "justified", but later reversed his position, declaring the strike was militarily mistake.

Former Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung was forced to resign from the cabinet last month after he covered up the civilian toll of the strike in the weeks leading up to a federal election on Sept. 27.

In addition, the head of Germany's armed forces quit over the affair and lawmakers have agreed to launch a parliamentary inquiry into what Merkel's previous government, comprising her conservatives and the Social Democrats, knew about the strike.

Despite all this, Germany's lower house of parliament voted to extend for a year a mandate allowing the government to send up to 4,500 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of NATO's invasion.

Germany has the third largest contingent of troops in the NATO mission in Afghanistan that is made up of 65,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 from allied nations.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose the involvement of their forces in Afghanistan occupation.

The subject of compensation was likely to arise during the defence minister's trip to the region. German-Afghan lawyer Karim Popal said he represented 78 relatives of people killed on the September 4 airstrike, all of whom had signed legal powers of attorney.

Speaking on German ARD television before he left Berlin, Guttenberg said compensation issues needed to be discussed, "with the people who carry responsibility on the ground."

"Not by military means"

Guttenberg said the invasion in Afghanistan could not be won by military means and called for more development aid, before flying to visit troops there on Friday.

"Afghanistan will not be won with military means," Guttenberg told German broadcaster ZDF.

He said NATO forces needed to find a "sensible way" to withdraw from Afghanistan, rather than rushing it.

Guttenberg said the military was still necessary to protect civilian helpers and to train Afghan security forces.

"Soldiers are also risking their lives so that development aid can take place," he said.

Guttenberg also told broadcaster ARD he wanted to speak with German soldiers about the airstrike, the victims of which Berlin intends to compensate.



Agencies

Last Mod: 11 Aralık 2009, 12:24
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