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Germany

Berlin plays down Wikileaks' Afghanistan files but plans investigation

The release of US military documents on the Afghan war and the publishing of classified material has not caused uproar in the German government. But there are still security concerns and plans to investigate.

Wikileaks' website seen through a magnifying glass

Wikileaks sees itself a citizens' intelligence agency

The German defense ministry on Monday criticized the leak of around 92,000 classified US military documents on the Afghanistan war, but said the news value was rather limited.

The German news magazine Spiegel as well as the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers at the weekend printed excerpts of the documents, which were released by the Wikileaks website.

"Obtaining and releasing documents, some of them secret, on such a scale is a highly questionable practice since it could affect the national security of NATO allies and the whole NATO mission," defense ministry spokesman Christian Dienst said. "We're in the process of analyzing the material so as to find out whether the security of our German troops on the ground is affected in any way."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also called for further scrutiny of the documents. At an EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Westerwelle said the documents, which contain claims of concealed civilian casualties, had given him "comfort in my position, which consisted of never talking up the situation in Afghanistan, which is exceptionally serious."

Attacks on the rise

Dienst confirmed that reports about a drastic increase of Taliban attacks on allied troops were true. He said that in the course of this year alone there had been close to 60 armed attacks on the German ISAF contingent alone – almost triple the the figures available for 2007 and the years before.

German flag waving on a tank in Masar-i-Sharif

German soldiers are based largely in northern Afghanistan

Wikileaks claimed that US and NATO forces had increasingly been confined to reacting to the Taleban's operations and strategy rather than actively pursuing a policy of their own. The joint leader of Germany's opposition Green Party, Claudia Roth, told the media on Monday she didn't sense an often-cited new strategy of the allied forces in Afghanistan at all.

Killing a priority?

"The Wikileaks documents bear out just how dramatic the situation in Afghanistan is," Roth said. "But they also show the range of means the allies resort to in their fight for more stability."

Roth referred to classified documents highlighting the US special forces' capture-and-kill operations, including manhunts where the killing of innocent people is seen as mere collateral damage. According to the documents, 300 soldiers from the elite US 373 task force are located in the German camp at Masar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan. Their major task is the killing of high-ranking Taliban leaders.

The sources available to Wikileaks do not specify whether any German officers are involved in the planning or implementing of such targeted killings. And the defense ministry in Berlin was unwilling to shed any light on this issue.

"As far as the US task force is concerned, it's in the nature of things that their operations remain secret," Christian Dienst said. "This means that only a very small circle of people is in the know about any details of these operations."

Everything said before?

Wikileaks knows that much of the information provided is not totally new. But it claims it has got hold of the most comprehensive description of an armed conflict ever.

Spiegel cover about task force 373

The Spiegel has looked into US special forces' operations before

Wikileaks is a web platform which claims to be the first intelligence agency of the people.

Since its founding in December 2006 it has called on potential whistleblowers from all over the world to make anonymous contributions and provide mostly classified information. So far, people have sent about 1.2 million such documents to the web platform.

Among Wikileaks' best-known scoops was the posting of a video depicting a US helicopter strike in Baghdad in 2007. The footage showed how about a dozen civilians were gunned down, among them two employees from the Reuters news agency.

In 2009, the website first acquired international recognition when it published secret documents from a multinational shipping company, implicating the firm in toxic waste dumping in the Ivory Coast.

Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Rob Turner

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