German minister visits area of Afghan airstrike

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 3:32 AM

Germany's defense minister on Friday traveled to a northern Afghan region where a September airstrike is believed to have killed many civilians, an attack that has caused political turbulence in Berlin.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg arrived Friday morning at the German military base in Kunduz, his ministry said. He traveled with German lawmakers.

German officials, citing a classified NATO report, have said that up to 142 people are believed to have died or been injured in the Sept. 4 airstrike on two tanker trucks that had been captured by the Taliban. Local Afghan leaders have estimated the number of civilian deaths at between 30 and 40.

Guttenberg last week reassessed a German commander's decision to request the airstrike and now says it was "militarily inappropriate."

German officials have said they plan to negotiate compensation for relatives of the victims.

Guttenberg told ARD television in an interview recorded before his departure for Afghanistan that, meeting soldiers there, he would explain how he arrived at his assessment of the airstrike.

Asked about compensation for the victims, he replied that "it is very clear to me that we must find a solution _ not one that involves long procedures in Germany or serves to make lawyers famous, but one which helps people there."

Guttenberg removed the military's chief of staff last month after it emerged that a German military report on the airstrike, which reportedly indicated civilians were killed, was never seen by Franz Josef Jung _ the defense minister at the time of the airstrike.

Jung, who had insisted for days after the attack that there was no evidence of civilian deaths, also resigned from his new job as labor minister.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops serving in northern Afghanistan.