July 26th, 2010
12:03 PM ET

What leaked documents are telling us about Afghan war

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talks to Larry King about the 90,000 documents his site recently made public reportedly detailing U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan.  Don’t miss 'Larry King Live' at 9 p.m. ET Monday on CNN.

[Update: 21:25] Ellsberg: 92,000 documents won't convey reason for Afghan War

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been drawing comparisons to the Vietnam War for many years, and WikiLeaks' publication of more than 90,000 government documents about the war in Afghanistan will give more credence to that comparison. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower responsible for leaking the U.S. government's top-secret study on the Vietnam War in 1971, says that like the Pentagon Papers, these documents will not justify the ongoing war.

"I think what the Pentagon Papers showed with 7,000 pages was that there was a lack of any good reason for doing what we were doing," Ellsberg told CNN. "My strong expectation is these 92,000 pages will not convey any good reason for the dying and killing and the enormous money we're spending over there in a time we cannot afford it."


[Update: 20:27] WikiLeaks shines spotlight on mysterious Task Force 373

U.S. military documents released by WikiLeaks show that a U.S. Special Forces unit in Afghanistan assigned to hunt down terrorists also was responsible for the deaths of civilians, Afghan police officers and, in one particularly bloody raid, seven children while they attended school.

The unit is called Task Force 373. It’s assigned to kill so-called “high value” targets or detain them without trial, often in night operations. The 373 follows a hit list of sorts, according to The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper in England.


[Update: 19:35] WikiLeaks documents show successes and failures of Afghan police and army

Training of and handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan police and military forces has been a central component of Afghanistan strategy during the last two administrations. Among the tens of thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks are a series of reports on the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. The reports chronicle successes and failures of both agencies from 2004-2009.  Although both agencies have had failures, a preliminary review of the documents suggests that the ANP has more problems than the ANA.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington DC, says that the mixed bag of results in the reports are apparent when reading raw military reporting and traffic. "If you had taken 90,000 documents from the Allied forces that invaded Normandy in 1944 until they reached V-E Day in 1945, you probably would have found the same kind of success stories and failures mixed together," Riedel told CNN.


[Original post] Whistleblower website WikiLeaks has published what it says are about 76,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year.

The firsthand accounts are the military's own raw data on the war, including numbers killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, according to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.org, which published the material Sunday. On Monday Assange said the leaked reports from Afghanistan appear to contain "evidence of war crimes."

"This material does not leave anyone smelling like roses, especially the Taliban," he said, also implying that some U.S. troops had behaved improperly.

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The Department of Defense will not comment on them until the Pentagon has had a chance to look at them, a Defense official told CNN.

White House National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, who was among those offering reaction to the large document document, issued a statement Sunday calling the documents' release "irresponsible."

"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," the statement said.

There's a whole lot of information in the documents and we're digging through them with you to get a sense of what's in them, what new information we're learning about the war in Afghanistan, and what the big takeaways are that you need to know about.

What are we learning from the documents?

WikiLeaks released the documents to The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel before any other media outlets, and they had a chance to look ahead of time. Each news organization concentrated on different angles, but here are some highlights:


The Guardian put together an interactive map using data from the WikiLeaks documents to show and detail what it deemed were several significant events from the logs for users to examine in greater detail.

The paper also dug into many other issues the WikiLeaks material offered information about including:

On Osama Bin Laden: The Guardian examined documents that allegedly link bin Laden to several incidents between 2004 and 2009.

- Osama Bin Laden reported to have issued orders to suicide bombers in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan war logs: Bin Laden instigates suicide attack against Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to U.S. report

On civilian casualties: Many of the documents deal with civilian casualties, whether from air strikes, at roadblocks or in other circumstances.

-Special forces wound two, kill six, including young girl, plus donkey and chickens

On Pakistan ties: Several documents that The Guardian highlights indicate the fingerprints of Pakistan's ISI spy agency on some Taliban activity.

-Pakistan's spies accused of arming Taliban ally with motorbikes for suicide attacks


The Times redacted material it felt would reveal suspects' identities, to protect “people in danger,” or that would “reveal key tactical military capabilities.” The Times links to an explanation of its redactions.

On Pakistan: The Times reports on documents that show Pakistan allows representatives of its secret service to meet directly with members of the Taliban in strategy meetings to organize militants to fight against Americans in Afghanistan. Plots to assassinate Afghan leaders have been discussed in these meetings, according to the documents.

- Pakistan Aids insurgency in Afghanistan, reports assert

On how the war is going: The Times reports a "ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayals."

- View is bleaker than official portrayal of war in Afghanistan

On fighting the insurgency: The Times tells the story of U.S. Outpost Combat Keating, opened in 2006 in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan Province to fight the insurgency. The Times reports that leaked documents show three years of frustration within the outpost including low troop levels, unreliable Afghan partners, and an insurgency that has “grown in skill, determination and its ability to menace.”

- Strategic plans spawned bitter end for lonely outpost

On tactics insurgents use to attack: The leaked reports repeatedly describe differing tactics insurgents used against U.S. and NATO troops during the war

- Insurgents seen wearing government uniforms, and other times when they have roamed the country or appeared for a fight in the same Ford Ranger pickup trucks that the United States had provided the Afghan Army and police force. The trucks are described in this Nov. 2006 document.

- The Times also reports that the Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

On U.S. military resources: Referring to vehicles used by Americans, the New York Times reports, “For months the reports show how a third — or even a half — of the team’s vehicles were out of service, awaiting spare parts.”

On trust between U.S. and Afghan officials: In September 2007 in Paktia Province, a U.S. Civil Affairs report details a meeting that it had with unhappy Afghan district officials.

- According to the New York Times, the Afghans began a tirade, telling the Americans: “The people of Afghanistan keep loosing their trust in the government because of the high amount of corrupted government officials,” the report quoted the Afghans as saying. “The general view of the Afghans is that the current government is worst than the Taliban.”

On the "corruption" and "cultural misunderstandings” during war: The New York Times reports some of the documents show “an array of problems" occurring in Afghanistan during the war and small misunderstandings or victories that turned out to be failures.

Example: The truth about an orphanage
- The Times links to three documents about a locally funded orphanage that opened in Patkia province of Afghanistan in which the local director was given a leather jacket. The first document, dated Nov 2006, shows an American civil affairs officer enthusiastic about the orphanage’s opening. A few months later, a document describing an inspection reveals that only 30 orphans are at the center when there is supposed to be more 100. The third document, more than a year later, reveals that there are no orphans in the orphanage.


On German military problems: Spiegel looks at documents that allegedly illustrate little progress by the German troops in northern Afghanistan.

- Situation is far worse than the German government reports

On targeted assassinations: Several documents involve alleged targeted killings by the secretive U.S. Task Force 373.

- U.S. elite unit could create political fallout for Berlin

So just who is WikiLeaks and exactly what did they publish?

WikiLeaks publishes and comments on leaked materials that allege government and corporate misconduct.

The nonprofit site is run by a loose band of tech-savvy volunteers and has quickly become one of the Web's go-to locations.

Assange declined to tell CNN where he got the documents. He claims the documents reveal the "squalor" of war, uncovering how many relatively small incidents have added up to huge numbers of dead civilians.

This month, Assange, who is rarely seen in public, told a TED conference that Wikileaks thoroughly vets materials on the site. Watch his TED talk

The significance of the documents, Assange told CNN, lies in "all of these people being killed in the small events that we haven't heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events. It's the boy killed by a shell that missed a target."

However, the team at the website WikiLeaks has itself read only 1,000 to 2,000 of the documents, Assange said Monday.

soundoff (595 Responses)
  1. dan

    I think for one thing as Americans we should quit fighting each other and passing blame on each other. It was not Americans that crashed the plains in to the twin towers. Bush didn't start a war by himself he had to have dems and rep behind him to do it. Look back not many voted no. Fighting each other just for political party will destroy us. We need to fight for what we believe in vote for what we believe in and the person we think will a deliver .
    We now have someone giving information out and in my opinion someone else wanting to bring America down. Posting information if fact or fiction i don't know but going threw these opinions just started another fight and blame game.
    I don't care if your republican or demacrat I don't care if you hate Bush or Obama. If we keep fighting each other then the ones that are trying to bring this country down will. We have more pride in party it seems then in America it seems we have less feeling for our country men then the ones that will do us harm.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. alien

    Unbelievable, anything but the truth. People had better wake up and quit being told what to think. Wikileaks is everything but a security threat, unless you are a criminal element or guilty of war crimes. I would rather know the truth and make my own descisions with the facts. We are being bashed from all sides and being told not to worry about it the information is not for our eyes. If you question anything you are unpatriotic or a sympathizer. I never would have joined in 1979 and served in the Air Force if I had know this is what I was fighting to defend. Suppression of speech, rights and ideas was what I was supposed to defend against. Those that have not awoken yet are in for a shocker far worse than they can imagine. Sad very sad, and the politicians think it is funny the retards. They don't realize they are going to die with the rest of us. Having it all now is the only important thing, the future does not natter.

    July 27, 2010 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. scott p

    The leaked reports tell us of American Soldiers running around killing Afghan(Also Iraq) civilians all day every day. The U.S. is in the middle east to get our oil and natural gas from underneath their land. Now the world will know that we are the modern day nazis. Who's terrorizing who?

    July 27, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Anand

    PAKISTAN is the source of all the problem around the world ..its their Army's business to launder money from US and use it against (destabilize) INDIA ..entire world. US helps Pakistan army in turn dig graves for their own soldiers..Should US Government be responsible for thieir soldiers death ..their policies to ally with Pakistan..WAKE UP AMERICA

    July 27, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Anand

    PAKISTAN is the source of all the problem around the world ..its their Army's business to launder money from US and use it against (destabilize) INDIA ..entire world. US helps Pakistan army in turn dig graves for their own soldiers..Should US Government be responsible for their soldiers death ..their policies to ally with Pakistan..WAKE UP AMERICA

    July 27, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. True

    Pakistan is the root of terror problems. I wish U.S would quit giving them our tax money.

    July 27, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mike Stouffer

    The Taliban is putting up serious resistance. These reports show what forces are dealing with. Pakistan has been playing both sides and as a result harmed collation forces. The link that North Korea has played in communication with the Taliban is also interesting. Was this right in being released at this time? What sentence, used to fit some agenda, will distort the truth? Does this put collation forces in danger?

    We are in Afghanistan to bring Al Qaeda to justice. However, from what many experts have they said, they have simply moved to different countries. Yet we remain trying to “nation” build (when our own is suffering).

    One thing is a fact, extremists are set on destroying America. Other governments are working to accomplish the same. Do we meet these groups head-on or do we wait until the battles are on our soil? Everyone knew that Pakistan was putting on a false front about how they were going against extremists. Everyone knew that North Korea would sell missiles to our enemy. Flights of Al Qaeda leaders flying out of Iran? Most knew this already.

    Doing nothing is opening the door on America once again being hit hard. Our thoughts are on the men and women serving our country. Our sons, daughters, moms and dads. War is ugly and it’s the innocent people that die, or live the rest of their lives changed forever.

    July 27, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  8. Anand

    PAKISTAN is the source of all the problem around the world. Its their Army's business to launder money from US and use it against INDIA..should say entire world. US helps Pakistan army in turn dig graves for their own soldiers..Should US Government be responsible for their soldiers death ..their policies to ally with Pakistan..WAKE UP AMERICA

    July 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mohsin Jami

    when i started reading posts i was amazed to see that very few have commented on actual story rather have plunged in the darkness of finger pointing, YOU and ME......cut this crap people.
    why not appreciate strength of American people... had it been my country or for that matter anyother this Wikileakes would have been history by now and should not have dared a venture second time.
    Lastly my very frank , un baised and neutral opinion is that world has developed Pakistan / muslim Phobia, this indeed is not out of place..we Pakistanis/muslims (have anyone read King Abdullah Comment about Iran "that snake thing"?? Shame!!!) are responsible for this..lets admit and move forward for good.

    November 29, 2010 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
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