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. Jessica, Grand Rapids MI

    We cant give up now, the trillion dollars worth of minerals are finally in sight! I mean, we must help liberate the people of Afghanistan and rid the world of terrorism...yeah, thats what I meant!

    July 26, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nate

      Actually, Jessica, we went to Afghanistan because of September 11th. Or did you forget about that already? As a Soldier who has deployed to Afghanistan, I can tell you we went to Afghanistan for all the right reasons, not for precious metals and minerals. The report on those minerals came out much later than the initial invasion. Have you ever been over there? Probably not....I can guarantee you if you did go, it would give you a different outlook on America.

      July 26, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Me

      @Nate – Thank you for your service.

      July 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gold

    What a bunch of cowards who have nothing else to do but spew your hatreds for America for everything that she does. The US is not a perfect country, but it is still better than most of the world combined. Yup! and I said it as a LEGAL immigrant. You bunch of sissies and America haters would feel safer without the US of A, I'm sure. Sometimes I wonder if any of you actually left your miserable hometown and go see the world for what it is. So pathetic!

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

    Both wars are lost. No matter the leak or the amount of time invested in this region... our men and women and trillions spent on occupation have not made us safer and have only had the effect of swatting a hornet's nest. We are repeating history. The Soviet Union made its grave there and so will we. Congratulation chicken hawks!

    July 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    "The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
    Adolf Hitler

    July 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Garrett, McHenry, IL

      Wow a quote from a guy that hid the truth, probably why he lost.

      July 26, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TheFallofRome

    FOR THE RECORD, THIS HAPPENED ON BARRY'S WATCH!!! "The administration says the "irresponsible leaks" would not hurt the war effort." Really??? Did you read all 90,000 classified reports from Martha's Vineyard, Barry? THIS LEAK WILL COST AMERICAN LIVES!!! Stop the insanity Barack, just admit you have no clue what you are doing!!! Just text your resignation from the Vineyard!!!

    July 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. swest

    Why isn't Julian Assange in jail for collaborating with the Taliban?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Eric

    You guys are wrong to point the finger at some Aussie Wally for publishing the information... The real question is how did he get the information? The military needs to tighten up and not release anything that could be used like this. When there are leaks in the military, heads must roll.

    It's actually a conspiracy run by the illuminati to garner support for legalized gambling in Zimbabwe. After they took down the twin towers, they met with the pope at Sarah Palin's house for tea and cookies. Then they discussed ways to silence Wikileaks. They took the time to describe their plan to every stupid hippy in the US, but they didn't leak their plan to any intelligent people. What a shame.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Guest

    Is all of this really a suprise? Are people that naive? This is war, war is not pretty, and people die. Its not always just. Your putting human beings in the most hostile enviornment you can possibley imagine and you expect them to behave to the standards you set on paper. Yes they strive for that, but your average human being can only handle so much. Mistakes are made yes, people are corrupt yes, people die, innocents die. Do they have any good incidents to report on? If anyone has read through the entire report let me know, because from what i've been reading, it seems to be about all the mishaps that the US has made over there.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • zeus24g

      Thank you. Finally somebody that understands war is not a bedtime story.

      July 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Keith

    The person that leaked that info put soldiers lives at risk, put them on trial for teason, unauthorized disclosure of classified information, freedom of the press is great until it cost someone their life simple for the sake of news

    July 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rita Keays

    I hope someone with some authority gets this communication.

    This article has been a long time coming. So many soldiers have died in Afghanistan, senselessly. Most of those
    EID's those soldiers stepped on were detonated from the air. These were deliberately set off at the precise moments
    they were stepped on by the soldiers. Specific soldiers whether they were Canadian, English or American or other
    nationalities – were meant to be killed. Not just mamed, or injured. All lot of these soldiers were young reporters and they were some of the main targets. The Culprits? Ex-CIA Golf War Veterans with the knowlege, know-how and where with
    all to do the job! Money Talks and these MOLES have been seduced to accept the mission.
    The ones in the air are a covert operation they have S.A.T. (special satalitte equipment) equipped with precise targetting aability – whether human or object. They use professional hackers to infiltrate computers and obtain strategems aalways being one stop ahead.

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

    I'm just wondering, but I haven't heard anything about Eric Holder's 9/11 terrorists trials lately. You think this "leak" has anything to do with it?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JohnT47

    These types of activities are rarely undertaken for the greater good, but rather the advancement of one's own agenda. I can only hope our service men and women serving in Afghanistan have not been placed is even more danger by this.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Slash

    If there is evidence of war crimes committed by our military, then they have no right whatsoever to hide it from us. Leak every single incidence of it so we can try and convict the monsters who cannot be trusted to defend our country without sinking to the level of our enemies.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • zeus24g

      War itself is a crime on all fronts. Our troops and Spec Ops people do not go out on missions with the intent to murder innocent civilians. Sometimes civilians and innocent people die in war. No matter how smart you think our govt. is and our commanders are, mistakes can be made and bad intelligence is common. The troops that are sent out on these missions are only young men and women. Yes, they are trained but they are also human and mistakes happen. They are also out to accomplish a mission but their own lives take priority over the mission and survival instinct can sometimes cause wrongful deaths. The fog of war is very thick. I have no doubt that are troops do what they know is right and that our commanders are not issuing genocide missions.

      July 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kevin Malone

    To whoever cares enough to read... if you firmly believe that the war on terror is doing no good and it's really not a war on terror then so many of my friends that have died in this war have died in vein. Please tell their families that their husbands,sons daughters died for no good reason, and if you can't then shut up...You can stand behind our soldiers, or you can stand in front of them.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kyle

    Has anyone tried getting on wikileaks? I can't get on. Its probably just the servers but if its not DUN DUN DUN! China-style ban right there.

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