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Germany's first political casualties of Afghan raid

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

German Nato soldier in Afghanistan - photo February 2007
Germany has struggled to explain the aim of its troop presence

Germany's military engagement in Afghanistan has never been popular back home.

The government has struggled to explain the aims of the troop presence to an increasingly sceptical public.

Politicians have consistently failed to convince Germans that there is a clear and sound strategy in place for the Nato mission.

Even as militants stepped up attacks on German soldiers in northern Afghanistan ministers refused to refer to what was happening there as a "war".

They continued to fall back on the more sanitised line that German troops were involved in a "reconstruction and peacekeeping" mission.

But two-thirds of the German public want German troops out of Afghanistan. And following September's airstrike in Kunduz, the calls for the soldiers to be pulled out have grown even louder.

Trucks bombed

The airstrike on two fuel trucks seized by the Taleban was called in by a German commander. He had feared the fuel tanks would be used to attack the Germany military base nearby.

A US fighter jet bombed the trucks. It is believed that dozens of civilians were among the dead.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan, pictured on 13 November 2009
Army chief Wolfgang Schneiderhan is to stand down from his post

For several days after the attack, the defence minister at the time, Franz Josef Jung, maintained that no civilians had been killed.

Thursday's edition of the mass circulation Bild newspaper claims the German defence ministry did know about civilian casualties.

Now, on the day the German parliament is debating whether to extend the troop mission in Afghanistan, we see the first political casualties.

The German chief of staff, Gen Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and a deputy defence minister, Peter Wichert, have resigned.

But there is little doubt that German troops will remain in Afghanistan.

Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats and their coalition partner the Free Democrats have already called for an extension of the Germany military mission - and their parties enjoy a clear majority in parliament.



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