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. Ash - Canada

    US need to review aid to Pakistan which is used against US troops. How can US government allow it's own money used again her own troops. You people need to demand answers from the government. Wikileaks has not done any harm and everybody in intelligence circle in the region knows about it including terrorists. Wikileaks wil open eyes of the US people.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ken sanders

    The 2 greatest boon-doggles on the plate right now are Afghanistan and the oil leak. Afghanistan is a FIASCO !!!!! The greatest most powerful nation on earth cannot solve it. Yankee GO HOME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or else .. dig in and resolve it.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike in Texas

    Does this mean that the U.S. is on the wrong side of a three-sided civil ware?
    1. Supporting a government with drug lords in power.
    2. An unsavory Taliban that has no concept of human rights.
    3. Oppressed tribes that desire liberty from extremism and corruption.
    Which one do you think we are supporting?
    If we are there to do nation building we need to replace the current government leadership and start with local representation so that they can form their central government under the consent of the people.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. andy c

    Wendy, the Graham-Leach_Bliley Act of 1999 repealed the Glass Steagall act passed in 1933 that led to the current financial crisis. This was the De-regulation of banking so called Financial services modernization Act. Bill Clinton admitted this was the worst bill he ever signed into law with the Republican controlled congress. This law created the loopholes that allowed the financial services sector to merge banking, insurance, mortgages and financial services under 1 roof without oversight which created the wall street greed and sub-prime market that crashed the whole world economy. a little research goes a long way.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sssimon

    I would like to thank the person(s) who leaked this information. The various governments involved and their militaries have been lying to us from day one. Here are the long suspected and now confirmed facts:

    Numerous civilian casualties and damage to civilian property have occured
    The allies have commited war crimes e.g. violated the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Protocols
    The Afghan Government is thoroughly corrupt and partially in league with the Taliban
    The Afghan Army is completely inept and thoroughly corrupt and partially in league with the Taliban
    The Afghan Police force is completely inept and thoroughly corrupt and partially in league with the Taliban
    Our Pakistani allies are thoroughly corrupt and partially in league with the Taliban

    From all of the above one can only conclude that the occupation is unwinnable and we should just leave.

    This is Vietnam all over again. We are there because we are thare. Any pretext of winning anything is now exposed. It is only a matter of when we face reality and leave not when we accomplish any goals.

    As was said about Vietnam – "Who wants to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

    We and our allies are only staying because no one wants to be the first to admit the mistake and make all the others look obstinate. Meanwhile good people are dying for nothing – Americans, Canadians, British, Afghans.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tamars

    as if we didn't know the military "leaders" were keeping secrets or even deliberately mis=representing what we are paying for. they should be ashamed. it's not us who demoralize the troops. it's the lying leadership.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Demonfeed

    I wonder if the recently fired general over Afghanistan had anything to do with the leak...

    July 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. trying2save

    In reality we have been arming our enemies in pakistan with the money given to Pakistan....Pakis have managed free lunch from Americans....What a waste of American hard earned money !

    July 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Barnaby

    Thank you WikiLeaks, for doing the investigative reporting that CNN continually fails to do. WikiLeaks aren't just journalists, they're heroes!

    July 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Herb

    Isn't there a crime involved in the publication of classified material? I can't see any difference between what WikiLeaks has done and in selling classified information to our enemies. This goes far beyond freedom of the press!

    July 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tiffany

    ps- if my post doesn't make it to this site, it only just proves the level of cowardice surrounding this news organization and the people in it. criticism is american. censorship, which apparently this article is all about, particularly by the news, and "spins" for that matter, too, are deceitful.

    what ever happened to unbiased news reports? who ever asked for hours, days, years of editorials?

    huh. i must be living in the past, aching only for that time when americans cared for their neighbors and respected those protecting them, even if they don't agree with the leadership.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tee

    Who ever leak these doc's should be tried for Treason and taken out and shot, If one of our Brave Men and Women are hurt or killed because of this action it would be "High Treason" with the Death Penalty,.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. supervoid

    Why are there so many sheep on here that want to keep their heads in the sand? This information is not "strategic". This is information that the people of Afghanistan already know. The only danger that Wikileaks poses is that Americans will become informed. Too bad an informed American on average seems to be complacent... satisfied living the American myth while scapegoating the "other". We need to wake up from our stupor! It's sad that the only activism that is getting any media is that astroturf group fighting for the exploitation rights of global corporations.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BeeCee

    This is not our latest Viet Nam. It is showing our ignorance of not learning from the USSR's war in Afghanistan. WikiLeaks is just re igniting the news story from a few weeks ago regarding our money being used against us. Dumb on another account.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Willie12345

    Where have all the traitors come from? Each one needs to be hunted down and then brought to justice. Those that are entrusted to keep this information secret and disclose it are traitors regardless of their intent.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
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