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. Varun

    I think US should block these web sites just like China blocks its own information.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Josh

    If you believe your government, you are blind sheep being led to the slaughter by hungry shepherds. Believing that the wealthy upper class leaders of this country care about your sons and daughters that are fighting to make them richer is a fine example of the uneducated, iphone packing, facebooking, celebrity obsessed mass known as the american public. Wake up suckers. We are a tool to make the rich richer.

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

    Having spent time in Afghanistan defending my country, i have seen my share of classified information. Most of which really wouldn't mean much of anything to the average american. This leaked information, i certainly haven't read it all, but do i really care of the average american has access to that information, No... What I don't want is our enemies to have access to this information. I will be back in AFG within the year, and the next time i drive down an IED ridden road i really don't want my enemy to have any extra information.

    I certainly hope that whoever initially leaked this information goes to jail for a long long time.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DaveNate

    I wonder if it would have been treasonous for a German newspaper to report the plans to build gas chambers and human incinerators if it were provided to them early on in WWII. After all, it could have put the lives of German soldiers in danger? Either you are for truth and freedom, or you blindly support your country no matter what they do.

    Choose a side.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • damon23

      ooh, a nazi comparison, how original.

      July 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AJ

    US is paying Pakistan to get American soldiers killed!! Pakistan's ISI was funded by America and now they have turned against them. US still can still save the war in Afganistan by dismantling ISI and sending its crooks to Guantanamo.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. manofhonor

    I told ya ...... India has been saying this to America for soo many years. America your money given to Pakistan is funded to kills Indian ...... stupid American govt ....funding killing of its own troops ......

    July 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. trying2save

    So effectively US is paying pakistan to kill US troops. This is unacceptable to American people.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lgwelsh1

    The individual(s) who let this information get out and had it posted on the internet should be be tried in court for treason and then shot. This is outrageous and this needs to be taken care of immediatly.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John Hennessy Black

    First off, as an ex-military man, I want to applaud the existence of WikiLeaks! We should probably have many more of these sites. And, I do not believe for a minute that WikiLeaks has caused, will cause any harm to our soldiers or give any material support to any of our enimies. I firmly believe that our own actions in these war(s) do and will continue to do that. This site just gives us very factual information...

    In a country where less than 50% of the people refuse to get off of their huge derrieres, simply to vote, this country desperately needs sites like this one!

    Civilian casualties are an extremely unfortunate cost of any war; we tend to disregard the true impact of this in the war(s) we are fighting now, well, because these people are not Christian and therefore they are in the truest sense of the term simply: “collateral damage.”

    While we are not told that insurgents in a house full of civilians engaged a US unit of soldiers and we blew up the whole house, half the neighborhood and killed or injured countless men, women and children – to bring them Judea Christianity – the military likes to keep things like that CLASSIFIED. In point of fact, the military along with the Pentagon and the State Department Classifies toilet paper, writing instrument and all sorts of simply bizarre things, which really have no tactical or strategic value to anyone. I haven’t read, at least in any of these comments, any mention of Predator Drone civilian casualties; I have read much, presumably from military cohorts attempting to justify civilian casualties, by numerous accounts of insurgents firing on our troops from houses with civilians in them. That really is a sad attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Anyway, our “Precision Predator Drones” controlled from as far away as Texas, have been responsible for far more “collateral damage” than civilians being in a house with insurgents. [I guess the justification for these killings of civilians will be justified as computer or computer operator errors… or, perhaps the computer operator simply thought he/she was playing one of those macho computer simulation killer games…]

    We are NOT, of course, killing civilians because they have dark skin, don’t particularly like us occupying their country, can’t take the time or effort to secure the hostiles in an approved manner – its just simpler to blowup half the village – and finally, the big one: THEY ARE MUSLIM. [This is CLASSIFIED information…]

    July 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. G10

    to United States Leadership – Please give more and more money to Pakistan – As they are fighting for US/NATO (Can't US / NATO fight on your own) – With all the money and technology(Provided by US/NATO), Pakistan's ISI is helping Taliban.
    Can we win this war in such scenario ???

    July 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dude

    Its not like we didn't know half of what was going on in the first place sans the Pakastani involvement. Whats more interesting is that the RIAA or whoever can shut down sites for p2p networking, yet when it comes to a matter of national security Wiki Leaks is able to run a muck with no recourse? I am aware that the issue is free speech vs theft of music, however I think that national security should trump that. Also, in lieu of all this information being exposed, and how some (ACLU) might think it's right, we have now increased our chances of having government control of the internet.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ratt

    Oh ok, I get it, the NYT leaking military information was good under Bush, but Wiki leaking military information under Barry is bad and might get people killed. Ohh, Ok, I get it.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Boingo

    New (some of ) you might be able to use:

    Not sure if this has been posted already.

    Domain ID:D130035267-LROR
    Domain Name:WIKILEAKS.ORG
    Created On:04-Oct-2006 05:54:19 UTC
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    Expiration Date:04-Oct-2018 05:54:19 UTC
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    July 26, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. leopold bloom

    was it really a secret that we were killing a whole lot of people and walking in circle.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John McCain

    F-It Im a Mavrick

    July 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
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