July 28th, 2010
10:34 AM ET

WikiLeaks documents: What we've learned so far

U.S. Marines patrol southern Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Thousands of leaked classified documents published by WikiLeaks.org have given a rare glimpse into some operations on the ground in the Afghanistan war.

The firsthand accounts are the military's raw data on the war, including numbers killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, according to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.org. CNN has been unable to confirm the documents are authentic. Our reporters are digging into the tens of thousands of documents to see what we can learn about the war, troop operations, insurgent attacks and tactical issues.

Here's what we've learned about so far:

Toll of enemy ambushes

Some of the leaked messages reveal a strategic pattern of hit-and-run ambushes by enemy forces operating in Afghanistan - attacks that the U.S.-led military coalition began to treat as routine occurrences.

The material details more than 530 separate incidents of ambush-style assaults. While likely only a fraction of the total number of such attacks, taken together they show that the U.S. and its coalition partners, along with a variety of Afghan military and security branches, were mostly helpless to prevent or anticipate them.

Response when a soldier goes missing

One of the military reports takes a look at how the U.S. military responded to a specific incident when an Army officer went missing from his base in Afghanistan. When U.S. Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was first discovered missing from his southeastern Afghanistan base last summer, the commander of his unit quickly ordered "all operations will cease until missing soldier is found."

"All assets will be focused on the DUSTWUN [duty status - whereabouts unknown] situation and sustainment operations," according to one of the 90,000 secret military reports released.

Occasional chat about bin Laden

The reports provide fleeting glimpses into the possible whereabouts of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the years since his escape from American forces at Tora Bora in the Afghan mountains. There are a few interesting mentions of bin Laden, but many of the reports in which his name surfaces focus on what officials believed or thought about whether he was trying to remain hidden or avoid capture and occasional references to events or meetings he is reported to have attended.

Some documents quoted intelligence sources as saying bin Laden wanted al Qaeda operatives disguised as journalists to attack Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a 2004 news conference. In 2005, his financial adviser and an Afghan insurgent leader reportedly were dispatched to obtain rockets from North Korea to use against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Truckers shaken down from both sides

A few of the leaked documents show that sometimes supplies are just as much a focus in this war as the people on either side simply fighting each other. Truckers moving vital supplies along the roads of war-torn Afghanistan have faced shakedowns by both the Taliban and Afghan authorities, with Taliban fighters charging up to $500 for safe passage, the leaked reports show.

A trucking company working in Afghanistan told American forces "that they were approached by Taliban personnel to talk about payment for the safe passage of convoys through their area," one report from 2007 says.

Infighting and drug use among Afghan forces

Some documents reveal conflict among Afghan security forces, including attacks on one another, as well as heavy drug use among troops.

The material details more than 60 "Green on Green" incidents in which Afghan military personnel were more concerned with battling each other, rather than insurgents. Illegal drugs appear in several other instances to have fueled much of the internal Afghan disputes, including instances where soldiers were caught being high on drugs, and in one report, the drug use led to a gunbattle breaking out on base.

Media's impact on investigations

While many of the reports are details from sources on the ground about certain daily operations, one leaked document sheds light on the confusion of what turned into a controversial attack in Kunduz - and how the media played a role in the military's investigation afterward.

One leaked document shows how NATO troops were mistaken in a deadly air attack on two stolen fuel tankers last year. After the tankers were blown up and a unit was sent to the scene, a military report of the incident found no civilian casualties.

But a later update said: "At 0900 hrs International Media reported that US airstrike had killed 60 civilians in Kunduz. The media are reporting that Taliban did steal the trucks and had invited civilians in the area to take fuel."

Drone crashes targeted for aircraft parts

When unmanned aircraft crash in Afghanistan, scavenger hunters frequently aren't far behind, U.S. military incident reports suggest.

On several occasions, military units sent to recover Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles arrived to find the aircraft stripped of valuable parts - including key electronic components.

Successes and failures on the battlefront

The training of and handing over of security responsibilities to the Afghan police and military forces have been central components of U.S. 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 Afghan National Police.

The reports chronicle successes and failures of both agencies from 2004-2009. Both agencies have had failures, but a preliminary review of the documents suggests that the police has more problems than the army.

soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. pocket liner

    I'm all for keeping the war(s) going. Battle grounds are great beta sites for testing and evaluating new technology. Many successful manned (and unmanned) aircraft missions couldn't have been made possible without field testing under actual combat conditions. Remote control has made giant advances since RC toys! Also, Americans need to understand that their war tax dollars provide economic as well as security benefits. Good paying jobs (managers, engineers, technicians, administration professionals, etc) are created and sustained as a benefit that many folks fail to recognize. Sure, there are many socially and ecologically friendly ways for people to conduct business but, that's their choice.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jordan

    Bring the troops home, use them to protect our boarders, not drain our pockets.....

    July 29, 2010 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. SouthseaBill

    Whoever is responsible for this should be tried and if found guilt, executed. We can't have people revealing classified information.

    July 29, 2010 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. THOR(THE GOD OF THUNDER)

    pocket liner

    I'm all for keeping the war(s) going. Battle grounds are great beta sites for testing and evaluating new technology. Many successful manned (and unmanned) aircraft missions couldn't have been made possible without field testing under actual combat conditions. Remote control has made giant advances since RC toys! Also, Americans need to understand that their war tax dollars provide economic as well as security benefits. Good paying jobs (managers, engineers, technicians, administration professionals, etc) are created and sustained as a benefit that many folks fail to recognize. Sure, there are many socially and ecologically friendly ways for people to conduct business but, that's their choice.

    (Yeah lets just keep this war going and make our country a poverty pit so we can test our technology and kill people...YOUR AN IDIOT!!!)

    July 29, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • bangash

      THOR(THE GOD OF THUNDER), this here every Afghan and Pakistani believe that America is not here to fight war on terror but to test their technology and they are using every newly invented war machine on these weak and poor human beings. You know the role of corporations and your leadership's close alliance for mutual financial benefits at the cost American nation. Wikileak revelations and many more such forums keep on informing their nation of this deception of US public opinion and Americans as a nation have already rejected this death merchandise by rejecting Bush in general elections but corporatocracy and few military Generals cannot loose this huge source of unauditable money of US taxpayers. For money they can even destroy whole America as is seen in Afghanistan. No doubt no one in Afghanistan and Pakistan can even think of attack on US soil even if they seriously wish to do so, due to lack of required resources, despite the facts That USA is at war in this region, destroying Afghanistan, being followed by Pakistan, while most of the attackers on US soil are American nationals which mean that the fire Americans have come to extinguish here has already reached at your doorstep. The only way to get out of this quagmire is to listen to the American public not Generals or corporations.

      August 1, 2010 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. evan Mark

    Please learn about the TALIBAN and how evil these men really are.
    You absolutely MUST see this!
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9aw6Cnw0hY&w=640&h=360]

    August 8, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
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