German army chief resigns over Afghan civilian deaths

The German army’s chief of staff has stepped down after reports of Afghan civilian deaths in a September air strike involving German troops.

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told parliament on Thursday Wolfgang Schneiderhan had submitted his resignation.

Schneiderhan “has released himself from his duties at his own request,” zu Guttenberg said, thanking the former chief for his services.

The Afghan government has said that the September 4 operation, in which 69 militants and more than 30 civilians were killed, was the deadliest involving German troops since World War II.

Following the strike, Franz Josef Jung, who was defense minister at the time, denied there were any civilian victims.

However, Germany’s Bild newspaper reported on Thursday that videos and a secret military report had clearly pointed to civilian casualties at the time the government and the military were denying such reports.

As inspector general, Schneiderhan holds the highest-ranking military post in the German armed forces. He defended the operation at the time, but offered his resignation after the reports.

Germany, with about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, is the third largest contributor to the NATO-led mission in the war-torn country.

Most Germans oppose the involvement of their forces in Afghanistan, according to opinion polls, but the German government has agreed to extend the army’s mandate there by a year.

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