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. Karen

    Why is it surprising that information has been kept from citizens? The US government is giving a pat answer about national security issues. Notice no comment to the content of the leaked information and the information that was missing from reports on the war to the American people. We are supposed to be a democracy/republic – but how do you make informed decisions when information is kept from you? My disclaimer is that I was never happy about this war. Every soldier who dies is a sacred hero no matter which side he is on, no matter which war he was in, and that sentiment chokes all honest conversation about war.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. USA-Boy

    No one can access wikileaks.org inside the US network, it has been blocked by the US Government.

    I have few questions.

    1: Where are the democracy in the US?
    2: Where are they freedom of speech in the US?
    3: Where is the Information Society in the US?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lee Oates

    No...we need a new way of thinking entirely. We have to get past the tribal, naked ape, phase of our evolution, drop all religions, quit glorifying war and killing, treat our environment with respect, and control our population growth. Will we? Most likely not. Your looking at the last gasping effort of a dying country and civilization, most likely the species.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. swest

    The global elites are the people running everything so that those that believe in them don't have to take any responsibilty for their own actions.
    Cause it's all controlled by the Global Elite anyways.
    Get it?

    July 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TonyKMN

    It's great this information is coming out and is available for the public to review.

    However, let's be honest: Is any of this really a surprise? Everyone already knows (or should already know) this stuff is going on. Now there's just some paperwork to prove it.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Americana


    July 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. TheFallofRome

    Reverend Wright........Prof Gates.............Gitmo still open.............both wars still going strong.......World record oil spill..............take over of health care.........takeover of the auto industry............takeover of the financial industry.................Dover AFB photo op...................Memorial Day no-show..............terrorism hits American soil again after GW..........Weather underground.............

    July 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Allen

    stop turning this into a political thing by blaming one administration over the other. We are at WAR. No matter how you slice it that is our current situation, war. Nobody ever won a war by having some jacka$$ open classified information and give it to the public. There is a reason the information is classified. It can harm military personnel and civilians who are forward deployed. In other words, this information can be used against us. By publishing this information all over the internet, Americans and our allies will be harmed or killed. Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks has done nothing but harm those who are trying to end this war. I wouldn't be surprised that this act will cause the war to go on longer. This information will not always be classified. It will be de-classified in good time but now is not the time for it to be open to the public. There is more at stake, like the men and women who are currently in the warzone, their lives are at stake. The afghan people's lives are at stake right now. By doing this, releasing classified information, is a statement. That statement is that their lives are not important. They have been put at more risk now and a few days ago. I know that some people will read this and totally disagree with me. It’s your right to do so, and it makes me believe that you have never served the military. That you truly do not understand what it is like to be under fire by the enemy. The information might just be a collection of small reports but it’s when the enemy can collect it all together and make a bigger picture out of it. It’s just like be a detective trying to solve a crime. You don’t have all the information at once but have to piece it together to give you the big picture. There is no crime here other than helping the enemy out by giving him the information, which has been done here. Some people say that it is not treason but it is. The person who gave out the information has committed treason. Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks really don’t care about lives because they have posted the classified information for the entire world to see.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Youth of America


      July 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Oates

      I have been in the military, and I say we have just got ourselves another vietnam (by two). Bring the troops home and let Iraq and Afganistan resolve their own problems. These wars are over resources, not politics. The only hope for the US is a lot of truth-telling, and playing on the needs of the military as an excuse to ban Freedom of speach is a disservice to the US and its citizens.

      July 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. swest

    Don't beleive everything you read on the net.
    Try taking responsibilty for your own life.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jimmymac

    Its a war; anything can happen. What's to say the Taliban didn't dress up like Pakistani soldiers before giving themselves help for propaganda purposes to discourage our troops. This released info is snippets of info without follow up verification to put it into context.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cdn kid

    Wow! Is this what Americans do all day – blame each other (not that Canada is any better for that). No matter who is office right now – the war would not be over! Too much money involved and no one wants to give in. If you wanted it over, it would be over – pull your troops and your fundins....sorry China's funding....that's who has been paying for this war!
    Funny, North Korea actually has nukes and threathening to use them, but you have all these troops in Afganistan?? wow!

    July 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BushAndCheneyLuver

    Like we didn't already know what BushCo did was war crimes.

    NOW maybe it's time for some indictments.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Paul

    I love how you Americans STILL TRULY BELIEVE that 9/11 was done by "Osama Bin Laden" and "Al-Qaida". 9/11 was a joint venture between Mossad and US Intelligence to create these fake wars that you are now debating over. Do as much research as I have and connect the dots. The picture will appear before your very own eyes.

    Wake up America. Please wake up because we need you to before this world goes upside down.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Lee Oates

    Its amazing that so many can blame President Obama for so much, when its the total opposition to whatever he tries to do to improve the country by the Republicans that is the problem. Put the blame where it belongs. Bush was an idiot and a puppet for the very rich, and set the groundwork for the eventual distruction of the US.....like it is currently is going through.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Miss Me

    My Fellow Americans – 10 Steps We Can Take To Improve Our Nation

    1. Support immediate withdrawal of all US military troops from the Middle East – don’t freak out – keep reading;

    2.Demand the following action be taken by this Administration and Congress in regards to 9/11:

    To Whom It May Concern:
    On September 11, 2001, the United States of America suffered an attack organized and directed by Osama Bin Laden. Our efforts to locate Mr. Bin Laden have, to date, been unsuccessful.

    Enclosed please find a Congressional subpoena requiring Mr. Bin Laden’s testimony before a joint session of our Congress. This hearing will take place 72 hours from the time of service of this notice.

    Should Mr. Bin Laden fail to make the required appearance, the United States of America will consider your government and your citizens complicit in the attack upon our nation and in providing sanctuary to a confessed mass-murderer.

    Should Mr. Bin Laden fail to appear at the required time, we will begin the systematic bombing of the Middle East.

    We will not stop until we are satisfied that Mr. Bin Laden is no longer available to testify in his own defense.

    The People of the United States of America

    3. Support cutting the federal budget by no less than 15%. Every department, every office, every employee salary of the federal government must be cut by no less than 15%.

    4. Demand repeal of the Patriot Act.

    5. Demand the dismantling of the Department of Homeland Security and return the responsibility of national security to those organizations which were already in existence prior to 9/11.

    6. Support the rebuilding of the World Trade Centers – not as a memorial, but as two office buildings with office space for rent – after all, the business of America is business – so let’s get on with it.

    7. Support a temporary halt to all immigration while we determine how much American land the federal government will have to take from the individual border states to establish a military presence which will not infringe on the protection guaranteed to American citizens to be free from quartering soldiers in their homes. Acknowledge that border crime and illegal immigration are creating very real problems on our Southern border.

    8. Remember that America leads from the front and stop using other countries as examples of what we should or should not be doing.

    9. Stop using words like “kool-aid drinker” “tea-bagger” "libtard" “rethuglican” etc, etc ad nauseum – these terms are offensive.

    10. Support extending the Bush tax cuts for six (6) years. We Dems can compromise on this one.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Batti

      @MissMe – Did you mean for this to be a shining example of your ignorance or was it by accident?

      July 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Me

      @Batti – what's your problem?

      July 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
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