Luxembourgh Times

NATO mission detail slip no big deal, Luxembourg says

NATO asked media to remove fact rescue mission also targeted 17 of its employees stranded in Afghanistan

The Luxembourg A400M plane that will be used as part of Afghanistan rescue missions

The Luxembourg A400M plane that will be used as part of Afghanistan rescue missions © Photo credit: Gerry Huberty

Kathryn Oglesby

Luxembourg defended its release of classified information about a rescue mission involving NATO staff stranded in Kabul, saying on Monday the military alliance had already published "similar details".

Defence Minister François Bausch referred to a transcript from a NATO press conference which he said, “contained similar information” when asked by a parliamentarian why the government had included the information - classified by NATO as operationally critical - in a press release.

On Tuesday, the defense department had said that the country was assisting in a rescue mission of 17 NATO employees stranded in Afghanistan.

Later that day, a NATO spokeswoman asked the Luxembourg Times to remove the detail from its story, saying it had not been confirmed. On Wednesday, NATO said it had asked the government and media outlets to "rectify" the information, reiterating its request for the information to be taken down.

The government no longer mentioned the detail in a later online statement, though it did not issue a formal correction of its press release, a standard procedure in case of wrong information. The Luxembourg Times did not comply with NATO's request, because it violates its editorial principles.

At a press conference on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General jens Stoltenberg did not mention the 17 staff. “NATO's main focus now is to get the people out,” he said. “People who have worked for NATO, but also Afghans who have worked and supported NATO and NATO Allies over all these years.”

“NATO has been working round the clock to maintain operations at Kabul international airport,” Stoltenberg added. “Around 800 NATO civilian personnel have remained to provide key functions under very challenging circumstances.”

"Information was shared and discussed at operational level. There certainly was no ‘leak of classified information’ and we continue to appreciate the close collaboration with the MoD," a spokeswoman for NATO said in an email.

Fernand Kartheiser, of the right-wing Alternative Democratic Reform party, also wanted to know why the governmen thad been slow in releasing information about a joint rescue mission between Luxembourg and Belgium trying to retrieve citizens and Afghan staff out of Kabul.

The operation was a “complicated and sensitive” one which took time to confirm, and “communication about the deployment took a bit longer”.

The Luxembourg Times reported on Sunday that Luxembourg has yet to return a group of nine people in Kabul to safety, as Taliban forces and droves of evacuees block the airport of the Afghan capital. There are six Luxembourg residents in the group: four Luxembourg citizens and two Afghan staff, and three people with other links to the country.