WikiLeaks Document Drop, The Pentagon Papers of the Afghan War
by Charles Lemos, Mon Jul 26, 2010 at 04:19:15 AM EDT
The website WikiLeaks, a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public, has published over 91,000 leaked ISAF and US military documents that paint a very different scenario from the picture portrayed by the Obama Administration in the Afghan War. In addition, WikiLeaks gave advance access to three news publications in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Here's how it's being reported by the three news outlets given advance access. In the New York Times, the US publication given advance access and the nation's paper of record, the focus is on the Pakistani double game in Afghanistan.
Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.
The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.
Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.
But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.
While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.
Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.
The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.
The White House response has been fast and furious. General James Jones, the White House National Security Adviser, issued a statement that begins: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."
More on the White House reaction from Politico.
In Britain, the left-leaning The Guardian focuses more on the underreported civilian toll of the war and costs of occupation noting that taken together the leaked documents provide "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan."
A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.
The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.
Their publication comes amid mounting concern that Barack Obama's "surge" strategy is failing and as coalition troops hunt for two US naval personnel captured by the Taliban south of Kabul on Friday.
The war logs also detail:
• How a secret "black" unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for "kill or capture" without trial.
• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.
• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.
• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.
In a statement, the White House said the chaotic picture painted by the logs was the result of "under-resourcing" under Obama's predecessor, saying: "It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009."
The White House also criticised the publication of the files by Wikileaks: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."
The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents.
Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.
At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.
Bloody errors at civilians' expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
Questionable shootings of civilians by UK troops also figure. The US compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: "Investigation controlled by the British. We are not able to get [sic] complete story."
A second cluster of similar shootings, all involving Royal Marine commandos in Helmand province, took place in a six-month period at the end of 2008, according to the log entries. Asked by the Guardian about these allegations, the Ministry of Defence said: "We have been unable to corroborate these claims in the short time available and it would be inappropriate to speculate on specific cases without further verification of the alleged actions."
Rachel Reid, who investigates civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said: "These files bring to light what's been a consistent trend by US and Nato forces: the concealment of civilian casualties. Despite numerous tactical directives ordering transparent investigations when civilians are killed, there have been incidents I've investigated in recent months where this is still not happening.
Accountability is not just something you do when you are caught. It should be part of the way the US and Nato do business in Afghanistan every time they kill or harm civilians." The reports, many of which the Guardian is publishing in full online, present an unvarnished and often compelling account of the reality of modern war.
Germany's Der Spiegel finds that "explosive leaks provide [an] image of war from those fighting it" and that "the war logs expose the true scale of the Western military deployment -- and the problems beleaguering Germany's Bundeswehr in the Hindu Kush."
A total of 91,731 reports from United States military databanks relating to the war in Afghanistan are to be made publicly available on the Internet. Never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating. WikiLeaks plans to post the documents, most of which are classified, on its website.
Britain's Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and SPIEGEL have all vetted the material and compared the data with independent reports. All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide an unvarnished image of the war in Afghanistan -- from the perspective of the soldiers who are fighting it.
The reports, from troops engaged in the ongoing combat, were tersely summarized and quickly dispatched. For the most part, they originate from sergeants -- but some have been penned by the occasional lieutenant at a command post or ranking analysts with the military intelligence service.
The documents' release comes at a time when calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are growing -- even in America. Last week, representatives from more than 70 nations and organizations met in Kabul for the Afghanistan conference. They assured President Hamid Karzai that his country would be in a position by 2014 to guarantee security using its own soldiers and police.
A Gloomy Picture
But such shows of optimism seem cynical in light of the descriptions of the situation in Afghanistan provided in the classified documents. Nearly nine years after the start of the war, they paint a gloomy picture. They portray Afghan security forces as the hapless victims of Taliban attacks. They also offer a conflicting impression of the deployment of drones, noting that America's miracle weapons are also entirely vulnerable.
And they show that the war in northern Afghanistan, where German troops are stationed, is becoming increasingly perilous. The number of warnings about possible Taliban attacks in the region -- fuelled by support from Pakistan -- has increased dramatically in the past year.
The documents offer a window into the war in the Hindu Kush -- one which promises to change the way we think about the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. They will also be indispensible for anyone seeking to inform themselves about the war in the future.
Despite repeated requests, the White House refused to provide any comment in time for the deadline of the printed edition of SPIEGEL. On Saturday evening, however, a White House official finally provided written answers to select questions about the content of the reports obtained, but refused to grant an interview.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, said: "Since taking office, President Obama has been very clear and candid with the American people about the challenges that we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president and senior officials in his administration have spoken openly and repeatedly about the safe havens that exist in Pakistan, the security and governance challenges in Afghanistan, and the difficulties that lie ahead. ... It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009. The war in Afghanistan was under-resourced for many years. ... On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy and new resources for Afghanistan and Pakistan precisely because of the grave situation there." Responding to the intention of WikiLeaks to make the classified military documents available online, Rhodes said: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations that put the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security." He said that WikiLeaks made "no effort to contact the United States government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners and local populations who cooperate with us."
The editors in chief of SPIEGEL, the New York Times and the Guardian have agreed that they would not publish especially sensitive information in the classified material -- like the names of the US military's Afghan informants or information that could create additional security risks for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The publishers were unanimous in their belief that there is a justified public interest in the material because it provides a more thorough understanding of a war that continues today after almost nine years.
In all, Monday promises to be a very busy day for the Obama Administration which is increasingly on the defensive on the Afghan War.