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. Spiritual Inspiritor

    The point is that words and phrases such as Collateral Damage cover up the reality__real civilians are killed, families torn apart, the toxic environment that the little children are forced to be in means touching a shiny object a kid is attracted to could blow off his arm or his whole body. And also think about the damage to Democracy by "secrecy, surveillance and media manipulation of truth. The good news is that a movement is in place to begin reversal and refusal to participate in the above. The internet has given a chance for people, families, ordinary folks and professionals to communicate and make a new and better world. It may be small right now but it will reach critical mass.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Lets all bang drums and sing in a circle

      July 26, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • J Mike

      Shiny things that blow off kids arms? How are the coalition forces responsible for IEDs?

      July 26, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. TB

    It is so important to know that Pakistani intelligence is supporting the people shooting at our people. How can you people not see the value in this information?!?

    July 26, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • armaan

      This information is biased only to put more pressure on Pakistan.American intelligence was wrong about WMD in Iraq, no country in the world believe anymore American intelligence its just media hype.

      July 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    The whole your a "teabagger racist" thing is getting quite old. Can you not take the truth without resorting to name calling? your the same guy who would have roasted the previous administration had this same story came out. Now there are new people running the show and the same stuff happens you claim racism. You sir are a racist by attempting to cloud the facts with your tired name calling.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Highland

      Mike.... I agree 110% ....... you are right on!

      July 26, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Sure your telling ME you tea people aren't racist they why did one of your own edit that video about the women that helped a "white" farmer and make her sound racisit even though she repented. You know why? Because you tea people are no different then liberals, moderates, left people and you can add democrat and republican to that too. You are all slime and will do ANYTHING to get elected or re-elected.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike A

      Hey Mike, maybe you should check out the dates of this information. This IS from the previous administration! Ha!

      July 26, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Todd

    The United States of America will never win another war, with all this type of junk floating around. You dont think in WWII, WWI, Korea, Revolutionary War civilians werent killed? Gimme a break, yes it is horrible, if we can prevent it we should, but you physically cant stop civilian casualties in a warzone. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are lost in political grandstanding, and all the people who dont have the gumption to do what is necessary to win a war will hinder our efforts to stop global terrorism. Next time they blow up a bus or building in an American city, remember that you cried for us to stop going after the same individuals who will pull that trigger.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Brittany

      HOOAH! Agreed, War has been a major part of humanity for all recorded history. Politicians vs. Al Queda= An impossible equation. We are being pushed to be so politically correct that our soldiers and marines can be shot at but cannot return fire if the killer drops his weapon and runs. They are soldiers doing their best to accomplish the tasks given to them. If the world wants to see a politically correct war, i say we pull our troops out and drop IN those politicians with a gun; then we'll see a politically correct war.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. I am a fool or am I

    God save us.
    This is a threat to our country, and we cannot get over our stupid partisan politics.
    Guys our kids are dying out their and we are funding those very people that are killing them.
    This is not a republican or democrat's sin.
    We the tax payers, under both the administration are doing this.

    Wake up folks!
    It is time.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. InPhx

    Unbelievable! As a parent of a soldier serving in our military I am blown away by the gall of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange their founder (who by the way is not even an American). War is hell and innocent people die ... more are dying at the hand os the monsters we are trying to hunt down! How does this make our soldiers feel I wonder ... oh no, I won't have to wonder! I can ask my child who is sitting over there in the middle of that hell hole experiencing it! Julian Assange should be treated like the criminal his own country recognized him to be years ago!

    July 26, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • NJ

      I salute your son for serving this country and protecting our freedom BUT he is fighting a war that has nothing to do with our freedom and has everything do with money (oil, minerals, drugs). I dont understand how a parent of the soldier cannot see the truth? And why criticize wiki leaks?You do realize that they told the truth about you funding to kill your son?
      Your son is fighting a war against Taliban who gets funding from ISI who gets funding from US govt. who gets funding from people like you and me. This information no way is going to harm your son, do you really think afghans are going to read this and start attacking? Do you really think they already dont know all this? Do you really think we have to give them the number of civilian deaths that they dont know?
      The only thing this will do is help your son come home from a war that should not have been fought in the first place.
      Please for once , think about it with an open mind.

      July 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NJ

      I would actually like to take one line out of my previous reply. I did not put that correctly. When I said "you do realize that they told the truth about you funding to kill your son?" I meant the tax money that you give to govt being utilized for funding this war, some of which in the end finds a way to Taliban through ISI (with the full knowledge of our govt).

      July 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Starnes

    Good! Bush lied us into this war too. The head of the FBI says there is NO credible evidence that Bin Laden did 9-11, that is why he is not on their Most Wanted List. The 9-11 hijackers trained in Florida and Germany, NOT Afghanistan. Just like Iraq, this war of choice for profit was not about "freedom and democracy" or a military threat, but empire building and controlling resources, with over 1 MILLION innocent human beings dead. But instead of facing justice as a traitor and war criminal, Bush gets a taxpayer-subsidized pension and "socialized medical care" that no average American can imagine. If there is no justice for Bush & Co., there is no justice in America at all!

    July 26, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Which FBI head do you refer to?

      July 26, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gold

    The data appeared to be nothing but little incidents that inevitable occurred in such volatile environment. It is obvious someone failed to "connect the dots" and tried to make it look serious. You can't easily find these incidents in the local newspapers, especially those that are anti-Americans. As for those who think we have no reason to be there, did you just fall and cracked your head? Unlike Iraq, this is the war worth fighting. Yeah! I didn't make that up either.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. willie

    He is an Aussie, no treason against the USA here. Beside, American soldiers die every day to protect what? (corporate interest?). Do u really think that the American government sent thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan to hunt for Obama?

    July 26, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Spiritual Inspiritor

    So, here's a quote by John Dewey: "fascism may come to America in the name of protecting Democracy from its enemies"
    We are out of balance and we compromise not just Democracy but the planet. We must learn to deconstruct what we are told and see the contradictions.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. sarah palin stinks

    this is not treason. it is truth. the truth stinks. especially when it comes to this war. END THE WAR TODAY. just pack everyone up, grab your handbags, and head on home. it is just that simple. seriously.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Highland

      I don't know what planet you are living on....so what do you want to do....fight these idiots when then come waltzing into our country....they do want us ALL dead!! Get your head out of your A$$ and wake up...it is NOT that simple!

      July 26, 2010 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • sarah palin stinks

      Highland, you have been sold a lie. 9/11 was an inside job. there is no such thing as a war on terrorism. you are obviously a republican warrior.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Inside job? I laugh at your delusion. You people crack me up.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • IDIOT?

      You sure are an idiot my friend? How is this simple? If we leave the war then those terrorist will have time to plot attacks on the USA. This whole thing is going out of hand. The war should be in place but played right. When is the government and the US people going to realize that Pakistan is the main core problem. They are training terrorist and funding them and letting them hide around their boarders.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. irishtom23

    I don't care if this ass is an American or not...he is putting lives in harms way. He is an activist that should be hung or dragged from behind a tank. We are not perfect but we did not ask for this war. I think we should leave as well as everyone else but what choice do we have but to stay and try to kill all of these rag head sob's before they attack us again

    July 26, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Highland

      Exactly Right

      July 26, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • sarah palin stinks

      spreading your hate, huh? i wish you and your family would just stay in your trailer park and never leave. ever.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I want you to remember something. YOU always have a choice.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • JAL0319

      sarah palin stinks states; "spreading hate huh?" I judt draw attention to your handle there. What has Sarah Palin ever done to cause you to hate her? She has voiced her opinion just like are now, only she has been given a public forum with a media following. I may not agree with her but the pure hatred of Sarah Palin from some on the left, i'm assuming your handle is just poking fun at her, is really unjustified to say the least. She hasn't made any policies or enacted any legislation that effects anyone, so the true hatred from some is amazing. Just my opinion...No flame intended.

      July 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Talgrath

      How, exactly, is he putting anyone in harms way? There are no troop movements in these reports and even if there were, they are over a year old and outdated. The Afghans already know that civilians have died in this war and so should the American people, so how is this putting anyone in danger? Or is the problem that the truth hurts?

      July 26, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zoltan

    Very disappointing to hear Barbara Starr condemn the free flow of information in the media. If your government is lying to you, and painting a rosy picture of a war it knows is going poorly, then a leaks are the only way for the public to get accurate information. That was the lesson of Dan Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Leave the "official line" to the Pentagon spokesmen, not to CNN. You're way behind the New York Times, Guardian, BBC, etc. on this huge story.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Brittany

      Where is the media painting a rosey picture of our war?? If anyhtign they avoid it. When they do touch on it they only cover the bad news.

      July 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. adsfd

    The only thing that this will do is help support the taliban to use info against us and use it for propaganda gathering more forces.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • sarah palin stinks

      this is all bush's fault. and palin's.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. joseh1981

    i believe in open source freedom of speech i just hope that some of this stuff doesn't make it easier for them to kill more Americans.....we can end this soon , lets not just dilly dally around anymore. lets not just fight for years and end with no reselection like Korea.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
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