With the publication of 92,000 confidential military reports, details of the Afghanistan war have become much clearer. The leaked documents should generate a new, more honest debate says Deutsche Welle's Bernd Riegert.
If all the published documents released on the Internet by WikiLeaks are really authentic, then they reveal five essential aspects of our knowledge on the war. But one must first view them from the perspective that nobody really knows whether the announcements, secret service reports and combat assessments included in the documents have been revealed in their entirety and are 100 percent real.
WikiLeaks has admitted that the publication of the documents is an attempt to bring about a swift end to the war in Afghanistan. It is obvious that documents which give a more positive view of the actions of the international troops have been left out. In fact, WikiLeaks made a decision not to publish a further 15,000 documents on the Internet.
So what are the five essential aspects provided by the documents? The first is that the war against terrorists, the Taliban and insurgents in Afghanistan is going a lot worse for the US-led international alliance than has previously been revealed.
Secondly, the Taliban are stronger and better equipped than previously accepted. The third is that US Special Forces are sent out to hunt high-ranking Taliban leaders and drug barons with orders to capture or kill. Fourthly, the Afghan authorities, the police and the military are infiltrated to a much larger degree by incapable and corrupt officials than previously thought. Fifth and finally, the Pakistani Secret Service is thought to be supporting the Taliban.
These have all been suspected of being true for some time, but now - still bearing in mind the nature of the source - they have become frustrating realities.
For Germany, the third largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan, the Internet revelations raise many important questions that can now, finally, be discussed openly.
How should the German armed forces react to the dangerous situation in the area around their base in Kunduz and in the north of Afghanistan? Should the troops be withdrawn quickly or should they be strengthened by numbers and equipped with better weapons?
Should the federal government admit that its present strategy of using its civil construction policy to pacify the Afghans has failed? Should Germany's aims be narrowed down to the core task, namely to curb the Taliban and terrorists?
One can only hope that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's initial reaction of feigning ignorance was just that. He must now explain clearly to the German parliament that the idea of creating a stable and secure Afghanistan by 2014 is an illusion.
If the German government wants to stand beside the United States -which contributes nearly 20 times as many troops as Germany - and wants to further engage in a war which is aimed at destroying the Taliban and terrorist groups, then it should commit to that and make its intentions clear.
German soldiers need a clear mandate based on international law, moral transparency and truth. After the summer break, the Bundestag is due to discuss the Afghanistan strategy anew and will have to come up with a new mandate for the troops, if necessary. Trying to sugarcoat the stark reality on the ground is no longer possible after WikiLeaks' exploits on the Internet.
Incidentally, the WikiLeaks documents also show that the air strike called in by German forces on hijacked fuel tankers which killed a number of civilians near Kunduz in September was just one of hundreds of similar incidents.
This revelation sparked a huge amount of outrage in Germany because it shows that civilians are reportedly killed in large numbers in such attacks. In the larger context of a difficult war, such incidents are regrettably routine. It is unfortunate of course if civilians die in this war. It is also true, however, that far more Afghans die through bomb attacks by the Taliban and the insurgents.
To describe this war as being dirty is of course only right but it is also banal and naive. Is there such a thing as a clean war in which only the enemy is killed?
That's one reason why US Special Forces are secretly hunting and targeting the Taliban and insurgent commanders in an attempt to limit the damage to avoid having to occupy and bomb huge swathes of Afghanistan.
Germany and the other contributing nations may soon come to realize that Afghanistan cannot be pacified. But how realistic is the option to withdraw? Would that not simply pave the way for yet another unpredictable, radical regime to grab power and provide terrorists with a safe haven?
Now is the time for a clear foreign policy stance from Berlin and not the time for simply riding out the storm.
Author: Bernd Riegert (na)
Editor: Rob Mudge