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. Annexian

    Can you say "Pentagon Papers" boys and girls?

    Not that in this case almost anyone now thinks Afghanistan or it's people really had anything to do with 9/11. This war is clearly fought only so that a few rich elite can personally profit a dime for every dollar borrowed in our name to pay for it. The papers simply reveal it's nothing but a waste of lives and money. By grotesque firepower the US can again win every battle but it'll never win the war.

    And, obviously also our CIA "Training" is working against us, since when it was convenient we had them doing exactly this to the soviets. Really, I thought the USA deliberately TRICKED the USSR to fight in Afghanistan to help ruin them financially. That, along with the Chernobyl accident was the "Checkmate" in the Cold War chess game, right?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dennis

    It was probably just general mcchrystal cleaning out his e-mail.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bailoutsos

    Saudi Arabia and USSR conspired against America in the early 80's to limit oil production. But America still lost lives protecting the Saudi's oil fields in future battles.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    I can't even get on Wikileaks. Is the site down or just overloaded with traffic?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. adsfd

    i believe we could use this to our advantage as well as knowing where the problems are for example disappearances of orphanes and question where they end up also what are we facing and why we must question ourself why american allies will betray america, there must be some other reasons for this.
    Now time to plan and question.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. zeus24g

    Why do civilians act so surprised when they find out that the government has been holding back information pertaining to a war. The government not only has the need to do it, but should not hesitate to keep certain information secret. This war can not and will not be won if every detail of every mission is wide open. The only way our Spec Ops boys and girls can do their duty is by doing it under the radar, especially if they want a better chance to live through their deployment.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike M

    Obama made all these promises about creating jobs, capturing Bin Laden, driving out the Taliban from Afghanistan, "transparancy in government (Lol, what a joke), coming together, change, etc. How many of you fell for this ruse?

    Election time is coming in November. Then, unlike in Obamacare, the public will be heard.

    Lets pray for our troops and their safety in the meantime.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LiberalNN

    Pakistani ISI are just as bad as the Taliban who are just as bad as Al Qaeda... but not according to Obama who in March of 2009 said he would be willing to negotiate with them.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. M-Dub

    It's about time we get some clearity... *uck the USA government for hiding these things from us the people who elected them! Shame shame.....caught red handed... It's time to quit crying about it being released and time to explain your actions. I thought the USA was a free country then i woke up and realized we arent free just led to believe we are and this proves it. I'm glad wikileaks exists.... THANK YOU WIKILEAKS for showing us what our government has covered up and left "classified".

    July 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Youth

      I'd rather not know everthing. It's no shock to me, and should not be to any informed american, that the government wasn;t telling us everything. It's a WAR. What do WE need to know about it? We don't make the decisions in battle, we don't talk to locals, we aren't in the line of fire.
      If you didn't know that the Govt. wasn't telling you about missions then just what Did you think they have been doing? Drinking tea with the enemy??

      July 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. steveh

    Wikileaks is doing the job that CNN stopped doing a long time ago. Actual reporting.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dont ya know?

    we need to change the system. by the time we have a solution to the problem ..we wait deliberate then decide to do it, but then the solution is invalid...Bush had 8 years.... you really expect any1 to fix the whole country in 2 years? give him more time..i support his decision to end the war(s)

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

    Let's not forget the facts: 1) It was citizens of Saudi Arabia who attacked the U.S. and destroyed the world trade center; 2) In response, the U.S. attacked Iraq based upon phony WMD evidence; 3) Then the U.S. attacked Afghanistan; 4) The Bin Ladens (all citizens of Saudi Arabia) owned the worlds largest defense contractor, the Carlisle group; 5) Former President G.Bush (Senior), sat on the board of directors of the Carlisle group; 6) over 650,000 innocent civilians have been killed by the U.S. in Iraq during this "war of terrorism."

    Bottom line: Saudi Arabia killed 2,400 innocent U.S. citizens in New York. In response, the U.S. killed 650,000 innocent people in Iraq and another 100,000 innocent people in Afghanistan. The U.S. has never bothered holding Saudi Arabia accountable. I guess if the "war of terror" continues to go badly, the U.S. will have to attack some other backward 3rd world nation.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Talgrath

      Now, I'm not a fan of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, but let's be clear. The real order is 1. Mostly Saudi Arabian nationalists attacked the US (some were from Yemen and UAB). 2. We demanded Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan. 3. The Afghan government at the time (aka the Taliban) refused. 4. We invaded Afghanistan. 5. Bush and company said there were WMDs in Iraq. 6. We invaded Iraq. You do your own point a disservice by putting things in the incorrect order.

      July 26, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dont ya know?

    have a war in Darfur or sierra leone ...More people have died in Darfur then the holocaust so we should just be good people and go over there and help them out.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mind

    we will be out of Afghanistan and Iraq by election time for a new president....by the summer of 2012.....we will then gear up for a really big war....a giant war......either Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela.....maybe all three......this 3rd world war will help to get us out of the depression......we're setting it up right now.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Milenkovic

    Malfeasance and entrenched mismanagement, and incompetence have no standing as regards official secrets. They who "manage" the public's perceptions need a good reaming. Well, here it is. The truth shall set you free. Period.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Milenkovic

      And, where are the up-down ratings ?

      July 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
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