x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Politicians fear public backlash over Afghan war leak

Breach will 'add fuel to the fire' of pressure to end military involvement.

LONDON // Politicians in Europe fear that the massive leak of secret documents on the Afghan war will only serve to fuel public pressure for an early military pull out. Opinion polls in both the UK and Germany - the two largest contributors to the international force behind the US - already show that a majority of the public does not want their nations' soldiers fighting there.

A senior Conservative politician in London told The National yesterday: "It is not so much what's in the leaks as the effect on the public. "It is already a highly unpopular campaign and the leaks just reinforce the impression - mistaken in my opinion - that our troops are dying there for nothing." In the latest opinion poll in the UK, 77 per cent of the public wanted Britain's 10,000 troops to be brought home immediately or "within the next year or two". Only 17 per cent felt the troops should remain "as long as they are needed".

Yesterday politicians and military chiefs in both countries were poring over details of the 92,000 documents made available on WikiLeaks amid calls for a wider inquiries into why the nations' soldiers were fighting there. Angus Robertson, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, said: "Regardless of how these documents were leaked, they raise immediate questions about operations in Afghanistan which the government must address.

"This conflict has now lasted eight years - longer than the Second World War - over which time we have heard persistent concerns from senior military figures in both the UK and US questioning the aims and the strategy being pursued in Afghanistan. "This leak amplifies these concerns further and we must have a full review. A major rethink is now essential: one that looks at all the options." Although both David Cameron's and Angela Merkel's governments have tried to play down the significance of the leak, the Germans, who have about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, were particularly annoyed by a suggestion in one of the documents that the "German military stumbled into the conflict with great naiveté".

Christian Dienst, a spokesman for the German defence ministry, said: "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. "We're in the process of analysing the material so as to find out whether the security of our German troops on the ground is affected in any way."

Omid Nouripour, the security spokesman for the environmentalist Greens, told Der Spiegel, which released the documents on Monday along with The New York Times and The Guardian: "On our reading of the US documents, it is disturbing how little the federal government has informed the parliament about the activities of American special forces in German areas. "We demand an immediate explanation from the federal government as to what they know about the missions. We will push with all force for answers."

Frank Gardner, the BBC's security correspondent, commented that the release of the documents in what is supposed to be a crucial year for Nato in Afghanistan "is just about the last thing the alliance needs". He added: "The public - if it cares to read the documents - is now offered a far more revealing and un-glossed version of the ugly nature of war in Afghanistan and it is unlikely to welcome what it sees.

"The patience of electorates on both sides of the Atlantic with this increasingly unpopular conflict has just been shortened by another notch." Both Mr Gardner and Juan Zarate, a CBS News national security analyst, agree that there is little new in the leak but say its timing could damage the allied war effort. "Certainly, there's an ongoing debate in Europe about their role and the role of European troops in Afghanistan," said Mr Zarate.

"So, this set of raw reports will add flavour and certainly fuel to the fire of the debate as to whether or not it's winnable in Afghanistan." @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae