Speaking to SPIEGEL about the publication of the Afghanistan war logs, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the material "will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence." In Germany, at least, his prediction appears to be coming true.
Rolf Mützenich, the foreign policy spokesman for the parliamentary group of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), told the Wednesday edition of the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that the SPD would make their support for the extension of the Bundeswehr's mandate, which comes up for renewal in March 2011, dependent on how the government explains the details revealed by the war logs.
The SPD would "confront" the government with the new information, which has been obtained from over 90,000 documents uncovered by the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, and "question them intensively" about it, Mützenich said. The details about the security situation in Kunduz , where German forces are stationed, and the activities of the US special forces unit Task Force 373 make the government's recent statements about the conflict "look dubious," he said. Mützenich called on the German government to check with its allies whether "all the US Army's activities are covered by the ISAF mandate from the point of view of international law," referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Although Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government has enough votes in parliament to pass an extension of the mandate without SPD support, Merkel has in the past tried to win opposition votes to show that the mission is based on a broad social consensus.
The Green Party's defense expert Omid Nouripour told the Saarbrücker Zeitung that the government had withheld important information from members of the German parliament, the Bundestag. "Week after week, we receive information about the security situation in Kunduz from the government," he said. "Nevertheless, I have found plenty of incidents in the documents that I had never heard about before."
'Not Entirely Surprising'
The German government sought to play down the significance of the WikiLeaks archive. The contents of the published documents are "not entirely surprising," said German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday. Guttenberg said that every person who was being briefed on the conflict knew about the existence of Task Force 373, as did many journalists.
It was a similar line to that taken by US President Barack Obama. "The fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," Obama told reporters Tuesday.
Ruprecht Polenz, a foreign policy expert in Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, called the WikiLeaks publication "problematic" and a "scandal" with possibly far-reaching consequences. In remarks to Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper, he warned that the Taliban could derive conclusions about future allied operations from the newly published information about past actions.
Betrayal or Expression of Democracy?
Within the military, too, the war logs appear to be controversial. High-ranking former Bundeswehr officers approached by SPIEGEL ONLINE were divided over the wisdom of publishing the documents, with some praising the act and others warning of the threat to the current mission.
"This is the highest expression of our democracy," former air force General Manfred Opel, who is also a former SPD member of parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Ordinary people need to be able to form an impression of the kind of war that is being fought in Afghanistan, he said.
Opel said that publishing the documents did not pose a danger to soldiers in the field. "It would only be a betrayal of state secrets if I were to give my opponent information about my short-term strategic and tactical plans," he said.
Former Brigadier General Klaus Reinhardt did not see the documents as endangering troops, as the reports only go up until 2009. "In my opinion, the Taliban will not be able to draw any conclusions about the current situation." Nevertheless he called the publication of the reports "irresponsible." The individuals who placed the documents on the Internet "want to influence the opinion of the general public," he said. It is unclear that there is a need for such an effort in Germany: Surveys show that a majority of Germans oppose the mission in Afghanistan.
Former Bundeswehr Inspector-General Klaus Naumann did not want to comment specifically on the WikiLeaks documents but said he opposed the publication of secret documents in general. "It seems certain to me that the Taliban is the beneficiary when these things are published," he said.
The almost 92,000 American military logs from the field in Afghanistan were obtained by the WikiLeaks website and made available to Britain's Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and SPIEGEL, who all vetted the material and reported on the contents in articles that were researched independently of each other.
With reporting by Sebastian Fischer and Severin Weiland