Labour Minister Franz Josef Jung resigned on Friday over a German-ordered NATO bombing in Afghanistan in which dozens of civilians are believed to have died. Jung was serving as defence minister at the time of the Sept. 4 strike.
Franz Josef Jung, German labour minister and former defence minister, resigned on Friday amid allegations of a cover-up of an air strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan when he was defence minister.
On Thursday Jung admitted in parliament he had known for weeks of the existence of a military report that pointed to 30 civilian deaths during the air strike in Kunduz on Sept. 4. But he said he had no "concrete knowledge" of its contents because it had been passed to NATO.
The strike has been called the deadliest operation involving German troops since World War Two.
The German press, which has been clamouring for Jung’s resignation, sharply criticised Jung’s speech, saying that it was no admission of guilt.
In his resignation speech on Friday morning, he said that he always acted “according to the knowledge I was given,” adding, “I hereby assume the political responsibility for the internal communication policy of the defence ministry.”
Der Tagesspiegel, a respected German daily, commented on Jung's statement: “In plain language, ‘My hands are clean, it wasn’t me, it was someone else.’” The same article referred to him disparagingly as “the short man”; along the same lines, the popular German weekly Stern said that Jung "never had the stature to be a Bundesminister.”
FRANCE 24 Berlin correspondent Damien McGuinness explained the roots of the unanimous asperity: “Jung was never very popular,” he said. Furthermore, the German public were upset about the strike even before the admission of the concealed casualty deaths.
One of the controversies surrounding the Kunduz strike was that German forces called in a US warplane to carry out the raid. Said McGuinness, “There were already accusations that correct procedure was not followed. People realise mistakes can be made in war, but in this case there were too many mistakes.”
Angela Merkel has so far emerged from the incident unscathed. McGuinness explained, “Merkel has a style more presidential than of a leader of government. She says as little as possible and what she says in hard to pin down. It’s never controversial, and she always backs the winner.” In this case, the winner was Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg – whom Merkel had hand-picked to replace Jung shortly after she won the Kanzlerei for a second time in September 2009.
Merkel, in other words, had already made her quiet stance by moving Jung over to a different ministry. As McGuinness observes, “Merkel did her classic thing of stepping back from conflict. She has slowly, silently rolled back her support of Jung.”
The PR problem
The Afghanistan mission is hugely unpopular in Germany. Still, said McGuinness, the government is uniformly in favour of maintaining it. “The problem with deployment is that although politicians feel it’s the right thing, they haven’t sold it to the people.” Zu Guttenberg, said McGuinness, was appointed precisely to bring his charisma and PR to the post and hopefully sway public opinion.
Germany has some 4,250 troops in Afghanistan. Parliament is next week expected to renew a mandate which allows Merkel's government to deploy up to 4,500 in the country, but officials have indicated this number could be raised early next year.
Date created : 2009-11-27