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Germany

Media Blow Special Ops' Secrecy

A German newspaper's revelation of secret military operations in Afghanistan throws the media into a tizzy and sparks a political firestorm.

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Secrecy as a virtue

Remaining Al Qaeda and Taliban forces on the ground in Afghanistan lately came up against an unexpected enemy – elite German soldiers of the Kommandos Spezialkräfte (KSK) who have joined their American and British allies in the war on terror.

It was a surprise move, unreported by military commanders, successfully kept under wraps by the government in Berlin until the newspaper Frankfurter-Allgemeine Zeitung reported it on Sunday.

Now, those revelations have sparked a debate about the relative virtues of secrecy and transparency in Germany, a modern democracy not yet accustomed to the social and political strains of military action.

This is not an easy debate to resolve. The size of the force is just "about 100" soldiers, according to the newspaper report, but it has proven sufficient fuel for the fire.

Political firestorm

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer came out strong on the government’s side, asserting that "we are responsible for the security of our people deployed in the mission. That is what concerns us, first and foremost – whether the media is informed or not."

That’s common sense, for militarily-active governments around the world. But it rubs many Germans the wrong way, and the revelations have pitted both the opposition and members of the ruling coalition’s parties against the government’s approach.

The defence policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Democrats, Paul Breuer, told the newspaper Tageszeitung that the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was "out of order" for not revealing the action.

He went on to accuse the government of concealing it not out of concern for the soldiers but for its own stability. "The grounds are quite simple: the government is not sure of its majority on this question."

The general secretary of the Free Democratic Party, Cornelia Pieper, called it "a scandal unlike any other", which Schröder also took heat from the Greens, partners in the ruling coalition with the Chancellor’s Social Democratic Party.

Green critique

Greens said they were upset that the parliament’s defence committee had not been informed of the action. Germany’s military mandate is more tied up in parliamentary oversight than most other countries’ – requiring specific approval for military actions outside German borders.

The issue in Afghanistan is a sensitive one, having nearly split the parliament and jeopardized majority support for Schröder’s government.

But the parliament passed a resolution on November 16, suggesting the possibility of KSK deployment in Afghanistan. It passed, though many Germans thought it a bitter pill. This is merely its sharp aftertaste.

Reports that a German commando soldier had been killed in action have been denied by the government.

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