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Former defence minister resigns over Afghan air strike

3 min

Labour Minister Franz Josef Jung resigned 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.


AFP - Germany's former defence minister Franz Josef Jung quit the cabinet on Friday over a deadly bombing in Afghanistan, the day after claims of a cover-up took the scalp of the country's top general.

Jung resigned as labour minister only hours after saying he had no plans to quit over the bombing of two oil tanker lorries in the northern province of Kunduz in which dozens of civilians are believed to have died.

"After consideration ... I told Chancellor Merkel this morning that I was handing in my position as Federal Labour Minister," Jung told reporters in Berlin.

Jung was defence minister at the time of the strike on September 4 and insisted two days afterwards that "only Taliban terrorists" were killed.

However a confidential NATO report cited in late October said that the death toll varied between 17 and 142, and that local sources had said between 30 and 40 civilians died.

Jung's position had been further weakened after allegations that the defence ministry hushed up another report on civilian casualties and which suggested commanders on the ground did not adhere to the agreed rules of engagement.

After chief of staff General Wolfgang Schneiderhan stepped down on Thursday, the clamour for Jung's head had grown even louder.

Merkel conspicuously failed to ride to her minister's aid, saying only that full transparency was crucial to win confidence in the Afghan mission, which polls show is unpopular in Germany, the third-largest provider of troops.

Jung, not seen as a particularly close ally of the chancellor, had been moved to his new post after Merkel was re-elected two months ago.

In a devastating front-page editorial entitled "Resign Please", the Financial Times Deutschland said: "Franz Josef Jung failed as defence minister and should resign from his position as labour minister."

"It would be no loss to the cabinet. There's nothing more to say," the paper added, leaving the rest of its front-page editorial column blank in a stark visual statement.

"Why is Merkel hanging on to Jung?" asked the influential mass circulation Bild daily, whose initial revelation that a military report on the September strike had been suppressed prompted the scandal.

Business daily Handelsblatt said: "The man is out of his depth. No doubt about it, he has to go."

Smelling ministerial blood just weeks after Merkel formed her new cabinet after her crushing election victory, opposition parties piled in with vigour.

"Mr Jung is not suitable for a government position," said Susanne Kastner, chair of the defence committee in the parliament and member of the main opposition party, the centre-left Social Democrats.

Senior Green party politician Hans-Christian Stroebele told the Berliner Zeitung it could not be the case "that the defence ministry is some sort of madhouse where the top people don't know what's being reported in Afghanistan."

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