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. sindbad

    Only crooked action requires hiding the truth since I doubt the Taliban knows how to read or wright, I do not think they have TV and internet, as a matter of fact maybe some of them has never seen or heard a radio, and last, they don't need wiki to tell the what has been going on for the last 9 years. So the idea that revealing the truth hurt us is as crroked as the guilty person who is trying to hide the truth, and the only reason they want to hide the truth is to cover their Ass-ets

    July 28, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Soldier

      I don't know where you get your information, but I have been there and I can tell you that the Taliban can indeed read, they use television and computers and you can bet they are reading all of the information on wikileaks. I thought that way when I first got there too and trust me when I say I was sorely mistaken. Those little suckers are smart and have more access to technology than you would believe. The stupid ones are all dead now and only the smart, motivated ones are left.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lee

    Am I the only one who noticed that PFC is no where close to officer status? I mean seriously CNN proof read your artical. It's cool if I misspell the hell out of my post but it's not cool for a news agency to not have there facts wrong.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Farmboy

    Who is this private who takes it upon himself to "save our democracy"? How can someone in such a low-level position have a sufficiently broad picture to decide what is best for our country and the military? What can one conclude about an individual who takes a formal oath and then ignores it? He is nothing but a trader and should rot in jail.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • curious steve

      spoken like a true follower of Hitler.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wahtag

      He is definately a trader, a trader of military secrets! And a taitor too.

      July 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yup

    Why would CNN even report something like this? Some might say freedom of speech, others might say the public needs to know... but for CNN headquaters (Atlanta) to be in America and to report such sensitive information for all the world to see...shame shame shame. It is very clear to see that their allegiance to self is more important than to the honor and security of our country. If this has become the standard for the public media, it will not be long until the public people of this nation follow suite. CNN your influence is greater than your camera's lens' can catch and heard louder than your reporters can articulate your stories.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GODZILLA1

    This war was lost the minute Bush diverted the American effort into his war of choice in Iraq. So sad that so many have died because Shrub has "daddy" issues.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    Civilization has been fighting the same war for thousands of years. I have something and you want it. I'm tired of the killing and the need to want. It must be time for a good washing of the earth. We are so young and ignorant. Most of you are so self indulgent some are scared but worse, most of you are just sheep with no insight into our humanities future. It took me 53 years to realize what an ignorant species we are.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      David
      You are ahead of me. It took me 79 years to reach the same conclusion!

      July 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • sindbad

      David and Carlos, Thank you for sharing, I'm glad to learn from you, I hope the rest of humanity learn that before it's too late

      July 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. trixen

    Many of our soldiers will lose their lives and our national security will be put at risk because of this leak. The guy who is responsible for this leak needs to be executed for treason.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • curious steve

      quoting Hitler directly?

      July 28, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • andy

      how do you figure? there are no tactics listed or numbers of forces etc...

      don't you think the "enemy" has it's own reports on attacks on there own people?

      July 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Missy

    I say get the hell out of Afghanistan! Plain and simple – God bless our troops. I pray that they come home (from hell)

    July 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tony

    Well we might as well be prepared for several decades of this madness. Everyone has been lulled into believing that we are there for every reason under the sun except the one which makes the most since. Oil, and raw materials. Until we get off the stuff and start running our society on any one of the plethora of intentionally stagnated alternatives there will be one excuse after another for our involvement in the middle east. We have the technology to spy on and stalk nearly 300,000,000 people in the United States, and we can't track down a few hundred and their leadership hiding in caves? We won't directly go after governments supplying these people even when we know who they are? And how long have we been jerking around with the middle east? Hint, it goes much further back than Obama, Bush Jr., and Bush Sr. And in all this time you can't get a logical answer as to why.

    The goal is to secure resources plain and simple, not win a war.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. curious steve

    hired shills littering the comment sections, trying to skew the public's perceptino of itself regarding the whistle-blowing.

    they are peeing in their pants. no amount of bombs will protect them from the long arms of justice.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Papa Mike

    To Curious Steve,
    First off pal, be glad your not in my reach, because I would drop your SORRY @SS with a quickness. Calling our troops mercenaries, and ones who slaughter Afghan's brings to mind one thing, IDIOT. I've been wounded, had many guys under me wounded and some killed in trying to PROTECT the civvy's in ANY AO that we're been in. You have the audacity to talk like that of which you have NO clue. I'd like to havbe you on patrol just ONE day, and I guarantee you'd see just who the mercs are and who does the indiscriminate killing. You're a disgrace plain and simple.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      I'm sorry you're a willing slave to your master and kill for his profit.

      July 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. andy

    they needed afghanistan to get to Iraq and they needed Iraq to get to Iran. You think all of this is just chance? it has been the plan all along. And when bombs drop on Iran God help us all!

    July 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ryan H

    Come on CNN, get it right, PFC's are not officers. Anyone there with even a tangential relationship with the military that might know that?

    July 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Papa Mike

      Hey Ryan, I've served with some pfc's who would've made better officers than some of the ones we came across, lol.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name

      Doesn't make them officer's dude... Just awful wording on CNN's part

      July 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. terry in dallas

    have u ever noticed the when there is a firefight that "all the casualtiies were insurgents and all the civilians got away" .LOL

    July 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • victim of democrat hypocrisy

      Anyone who runs is a Taliban. Anyone who stands still is a well disciplined Taliban.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. terry in dallas

    I was hoping that the Soviet Union could give us some tips on winning this "war".

    July 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
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