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. almxx

    Anyone actually serving in any war, is just a necessary money maker for people they are NEVER GOING TO SEE NEAR ANY ACTION. It's the reason for all wars, anywhere, that require manufactured arms. It's the MILITARY, INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX;The one President Eisenhower talked about. A REAL COMMANDER IN CHIEF!

    July 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. OldPOP

    Interesting how leaks always appear at key times in our long, insurgent wars. I remember the Times printing the leaked Pentagon Papers in 1971 and now, Wikileaks and Afghanistan. Democracy at work. LOL

    July 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      the call this progress

      July 26, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kowa

    Clearly, Pakistan is not our friend and we should not give them any aid.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Translation

    Bravo to Wikileaks! When we get more truth from them than from the US government it's time to reexamine who we believe.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. roger

    one more thing , real war is not like Hollywood movies , in real war they shoot back.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NSHSDad

    I didn't find the content of the leaks that surprising. For example: people have been saying for a long time that the ISI have been aiding the Taliban. It's not surprising that Bin Laden ordered suicide attacks. It's not surprising that civilians are casualties. Maybe the details of these things are news, but broadly it's not that surprising or shocking.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. johnnyhouse

    If you prefer to not print my comments then suit yourself but the email address is right. Your mess is wrong.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Yehoshua Yacov

    Dear Bloggers,

    I am ashamed to be an American on this day, for 8 years I trusted CNN and thoght we were winning this war and all thos rumors about our troops being war criminals were propoganda, but Today after downloading all the available files and carefully hearing out WIKILEAKS owner, I now know, I was lied to all along, and as a strong supporter of our troops Im asking Mr. Obama to withdraw our boys from the front lines. Im of the lies and im even sicker of CNN and its lies. For 8 years they hve been hiding these facts , CNN knew everything and kept us in the dark. I recall seing Youtube vids of abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by our troops and the puppet troops we prop-up and thinking it cant be real....Today I sadly declare SHAME ON US America!

    July 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. fred fesel

    there is no doubt in my mind that obama had these papers released in order to put pressue on the paks to get in step. 90,000 docs and no real big news except that the paks are hurting us which they alreadynew. there is some reason why the the administration had the papers released.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Braveheart

    Solution to the problem...destroy Pakistan .......the US and the rest of the wordl will be free....Pakistan is the cause of all problem...

    July 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Francis, Italy

    Guys, Wiki-Leaks founde says the US has commited war-crimes, yet CNN has been dishonest all day stating the files show a Taliban / ISI link....... Ahhhhh Hello....We are killing these people in the form of war cirmes, our records show this, and we wonder why they are attacking us.... My god , can you Americans be any more stupid, Your media plays with you, you are owned like cattle, you americans are so weak, so very very wiki-weak.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. johnnyhouse

    Take notice who is in the White House as these leaks dribble out.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. johnnyhouse

    Hey we were promised transparency.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Aitan


    July 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David Stone

    Blaming Bush is just so annoying at this point. No matter HOW much fault falls on him, this is now Obama's wars since he has made a conscious decision to INCREASE the number of troops there and continue the fight. Most Americans now believe that no matter how long we stay there, when we leave the Taliban is just going to take over as it always has. Whether there another year or ten the end result will be the same, and Obama is just as blind as Bush was to continue this, so STOP making excuses for him.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
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