'Capture or Kill' Germany Gave Names to Secret Taliban Hit List

The Afghanistan war logs obtained by WikiLeaks revealed the existence of Task Force 373, a secret US unit assigned with eliminating Taliban leaders. Now SPIEGEL has learned that the German government provided names to the hit list used by the unit. At least one of the men is now dead. By SPIEGEL staff.


Omid Nouripour, a member of the German parliament for the Green Party, was wearing the German national team's jersey in honor of the Germany versus Serbia match scheduled that afternoon at the World Cup in South Africa. It was 7:30 a.m. on June 18, and Nouripour and his nine colleagues were expecting the match to be the most exciting event of the day.

In Room 04/100 at the German Defense Ministry, a windowless, bugproof space nicknamed the "U-Boot" ("submarine"), representatives of the defense and foreign affairs committees of the German parliament, the Bundestag, soon discovered that the day would turn out to be much more eventful than they had anticipated.

After a brief introduction by Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Volker Wieker, the inspector-general of the German armed forces, stood up to give his presentation. By the time Wieker had shown his first few slides, the delegates realized that they were attending a premiere. But this time they weren't being regaled with accounts of the supposed achievements of German reconstruction teams. Instead, they were being given a brief glimpse into the most secret facets of the war in Afghanistan: NATO's ominous list of enemies and "the operations of US special forces units" within the zone controlled by the German military, the Bundeswehr.

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The sensitive terrain had been a no-go area for members of the German parliament until then. Until that June morning, the so-called Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL) for Afghanistan was mainly a source of speculation in Germany, even among elected representatives. But now Wieker was explaining to them, using simple Bundeswehr diagrams, the procedure in which the Germans "nominate" candidates for the "Capture or Kill" list. He also told them how Germany adds names to the JPEL, which ranks targets according to their relative importance and lists up to 3,000 Taliban, Al-Qaida fighters and drug dealers targeted to be eliminated, if necessary by killing them.

K for Kill

JPEL, Capture or Kill, Task Force 373. Since the whistleblower website WikiLeaks published more than 75,000 secret US documents (out of a total of almost 92,000 that it has in its possession), and since SPIEGEL, The Guardian and the New York Times reviewed and wrote about the material, the world now knows what these abbreviations and phrases mean. It also has a more detailed understanding of how the allies in the war in Afghanistan compile hit lists, which are then handed over to American elite units to process.

Thanks to the WikiLeaks revelations, war-weary Germany now knows that German officials added names to the JPEL at least 13 times. On this list, 13 names translate into 13 potential death warrants. The Germans only mark their candidates with a C for "capture," and not with a K for "kill." But in fact all International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops are authorized to shoot and kill candidates on the JPEL list if, for example, they attempt to avoid capture by fleeing. In other words, although German elite troops do not use the kill option themselves, Germany does provide its tacit approval of the killing of candidates in the zone under its control in northern Afghanistan.

The WikiLeaks story sparked a tremendous public reaction, both around the world and in Germany. Washington vacillated between studied indifference and alarmism. National Security Adviser James Jones, for example, said that the massive data leak doesn't just threaten the lives and security of US soldiers, but the security of the entire country.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he wants to conduct an "aggressive" search for the sources of the leaks. The FBI has been brought in to aid in the investigation. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote that the documents illustrated how "futile -- and tragically wasteful -- it is to send more young men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan." The Spanish newspaper El País summarily declared the war in Afghanistan a "failure."

The WikiLeaks scoop also made waves in Germany. "The documents have the potential of destroying the last hope of military and political success in Afghanistan," the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, while Die Welt called the leaks an "exposure of impotence."

'Nothing New'

The initial reaction of the German government and large segments of the political class was in sharp contrast to reactions in the media. Immediately following the leaks, a spokesman for the German Defense Ministry characterized them as "nothing new in terms of news value," as if he and the rest of the ministry had somehow managed to review the immense body of material in only a few hours.

Soon afterwards, his boss, Defense Minister Guttenberg, claimed that many journalists had known all this already, as did a number of members of parliament -- or at least those parliamentarians on the relevant Bundestag committees should have known about it, if they had paid any attention at briefings.

It was a transparent but not unsuccessful tactic. Before long, a competition of sorts erupted among provoked delegates over who had had access to what information. "But it isn't any of our business!" said Elke Hoff, a defense expert with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), after she was asked whether the government should give members of parliament details about the secret assassination teams operated by Germany's allies in Afghanistan.

Doing the Dirty Work

But all attempts at appeasement do not change the fact that war in Afghanistan has acquired a new political dimension once again. It also acquired a new dimension when the German government finally managed to use the phrase "warlike conditions" in referring to the conflict in Afghanistan (previously, the German government had refrained from describing the situation as a war), and when, on Sept. 4, 2009, German Colonel Georg Klein gave the order to bomb two tanker trucks stuck in a riverbed, causing the deaths of up to 142 Afghan civilians.

And now it's acquiring yet another new dimension. It has becomes clear that, even though German elite units such as Task Force 47 were not deployed to deliberately target people, their counterpart, the American special forces unit Task Force 373, which has since been renamed Task Force 3-10, takes on the dirty work and processes the hit lists -- in the territory controlled by the Bundeswehr and on the basis of German information, no less. For most Germans, this is new information, and anyone with any common sense would argue that it is indeed their business.

The revelations raise important legal and political questions. For instance, why are elite US soldiers simply flying into the German sector to hunt down and kill people, acting in a way that contradicts the Germans' self-imposed policy of restraint? And why were the Germans involved in compiling these lists?

Putting Names on the List

To add a name to the JPEL list, the Regional Command North, which is led by a German, must first propose a candidate based on its evidence. The petition is sent to the German operations command near Potsdam outside Berlin, where it is reviewed and then sent to the Defense Ministry. If a positive decision is made, the petition is sent back to Afghanistan, where it also has to be approved by the supreme commander of the ISAF troops. It is a process that reflects the precision of German bureaucracy, and one that can have serious consequences for the people it affects in Afghanistan.

There are now six lists containing the names of targets. The JPEL list, to which the Germans contribute, is the NATO list. But Task Force 373 isn't operating on a NATO ticket. It receives its orders directly from the Pentagon. The German government would neither confirm nor deny whether the names on the Pentagon list are derived from the NATO list.

There is evidence that the German nomination has already had drastic consequences for 13 Afghans. According to a briefing given to members of parliament, this is the number of men the Bundeswehr has placed on the NATO hit list. Senior German military officials even say that the total number of names submitted lies in the "two to three-digit range." In 2007, the Bundeswehr named two Taliban commanders, who were assigned the file numbers 74 and 77, but Mullah Rustam and Qari Jabar were deleted from the list prior to 2009 due to a lack of evidence. Three others were added a year later, and two of them are now in custody. Four enemies of the Bundeswehr were captured in 2009, and another four in 2010.

The Germans have been relatively restrained compared to other NATO allies. A total of seven Taliban commanders named by the Bundeswehr are still on the JPEL for northern Afghanistan, including Maulawi Shamsuddin, the insurgents' notorious chief strategist in Kunduz, and Abdul Rahman, the head of the Taliban group that abducted the tanker trucks on Sept. 3 that were later bombed by Colonel Klein.

But the Germans aren't the only ones who nominate candidates for the hit list for Regional Command North. In June, the JPEL list also included 31 other targets added by other allies.


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