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. Jon

    How bout we put these wikileaks retards on the front lines and see how they do, and not with a camera either, give them a M16 and make them shoot insurgents and see how'll feel. Why create another stupid abu graib, The war is already long enough as it is. WikiLeaks isnt the solution, their a problem.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSD

      In case you missed it, the papers essentially say we have been LOSING FOR 10 YEARS, that the Taliban is NOW STRONGER than anytime since 2001. So please, explain exactly HOW WIKI letting US know TODAY (those whose billions are being wasted in a vanity and ego exercise), is "the problem".....

      Oh that's right. War hawks on the losing side always shoot the messenger.

      July 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      "I don't need facts guiding my actions! Just emotion! Darn you wikileaks for trying to show me evidence my emotional responses are ineffective!"


      July 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      that's was funny , now these guys from the site are guilt for US are losing and waste tax money in that hole .
      use your brain!!!!

      July 26, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tcaros

    Thow out a Republican in November.. else the terrorists will win.

    (Terrorists= Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld...)

    July 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tcaros

    Throw out a Republican in November.. else the terrorists will win.

    (Terrorists= Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Bibey, Yoo, Rumsfeld, Fox News.)

    July 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ben

    Amazing how the note of unreported civilian murders by death squads is a footnote halfway down the article and not on the front page.

    Thanks CNN for keeping us informed! You are an enemy to freedom.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thinkk

    Question is if Pakistan is helping Taliban, then who is blasting bombs every now and then in Pakistan including their worship places? Is ISI loyal to Pakistan or are they working for someone else?

    July 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Conor Levy

    NO MORE WARS 4 ISRAEL.......








    July 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mohsin Jami

      Dear Conor
      So many No's in your post..
      How to achieve all this..????

      November 29, 2010 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Gary

    Wow, a Link suggested between Pakistan, Taliban? Now that is a shocker, I never would have suspected that!! (said in sarcastic voice)

    July 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Thomas

    Just more proof that we need to get out of there. More proof that we can't trust the Pakistanis and more reason to leave them to fight among themselves. You can't build democracy with people who do't believe in it. Most of these people are religious zealots whose religion is anything but supportive of human rights. Even if you beat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, you're still faced with religious people who defer to clerics for all of their answers. And the Islamic Clerics aren't supportive of personal and individual freedoms. When you have people calling for violent wars because they disagree with your views how can you win them over? You can't. Case closed.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • almxx

      Wars are only encouraged because of the billions of dollars paid to the war tool makers. Emotions are inflamed to make the people fight the wars, die in the wars, and PAY FOR THE WARS. WHAT A DEAL FOR SOME SMALL GROUP, Who don't care if anybody wins, in fact they want endless wars. Nobody ever mentions who collects all the money, when discussing the cost of wars.

      July 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ron

    War has never been known to be 100% honorable, by either side. This doesn't mean that there will be no future wars. Wars will happen, people will die, there will be mistakes made, there will be both honorable and dishonorable behavior on both sides. It is too bad that Al-qaida and the Taliban show almost no honor and a lot of dishonorable and barbaric behavior. Put yourself in the shoes of a soldier, there will be times when bad things happen and you battle your emotions, which may lead to the wrong action taken. War is Hell and should be avoided if at all possible. Al-Quaida attacked us in New York and in foreign countries for a decade or more. These attacks caused the United States to declare war. We went to war, and war is Hell.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Eumir

    Hopefully the CIA-FBI or some other organization will see to it that Mr. Assange disappears.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      the old fashion American way to solve things !!!
      good job bud.

      July 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. roger

    "Afghanistan war logs: Special forces wound two, kill six, including young girl, plus donkey and chickens"

    wheres PETA now!!!

    why kill a donkey????

    July 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dragon

    War is Hell!!

    July 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. almxx

    Everybody who is actively involved in any war, is just a necessary money making tool for people you are never going to se

    July 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    Everyone here fails to realize that the Stinger Missile system given to Afghanistan in the 1980's has a battery life of 4 years thus making it impossible to operate one even if they did have some still leftover. However, the CIA managed to buy back around 90% of the original stingers sent. Thus no stingers were used against the United States, however the Pakistanis are known to have developed their own similar heat seeking missiles. Believing anything you hear on Wikileaks goes to show how weakminded people are.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sharon

    UNDER THE RADAR–Since January, 2009, our Govt has failed our troops! Our Govt has used and abused our system–first the Obama Administration wanted to harm our troops by releasing the WATER BOARDING PICTURES–while our troops were still in the region–to take all information in the White House IT department to GOOGLE–and then when leaks occur–our Govt is SURPRISED!

    The radar is only as good as the one WHO IS WATCHING IT–

    Our Govt CUT CORNERS–to save money– by out sourcing the IT DEPT from the White House–


    July 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
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