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)

    I honestly think we have the right to know whats going on with the army and military and all the other branches because those are our family,friends,and neighbors putting an effort into War on Terrorism...But on another Note***People talk about War as if its a game...Winning and Losing...When there is war nobody wins,you know how many people have died doing what they think is right?How can you call that a win...you can simply say that a operation or mission was accomplished...not that eww we won the war because our friends and family are dying each day all because some extremist morons think we need to believe what they do...Simply put: you can either take on the problem knowing the sacrifices and consequences and outcomings,or you can just let them fly some more planes into our cities. Either way your losing either friends, loved ones, and people you don't know fighting terrorism to keep your @SS safe or losing inmnocent people just takin a flight home or walking the streets or working in their office for cryin out loud...So next time you talk about winning a war you think about what everyones losin first

    July 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jaded steve

    could not agree more with curious steve. i'm embarrassed by what this country has become.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. eyjafjallajokull

    We are fighting people who still have the same mentality as those people who lived in 1200 BCE. That's just a year pulled out of the air to say these people are ancient people even in the 21st century. They may have access to modern weaponry. But we don't understand them. They don't understand us. Our minds don't work the same. Our logic is different. Life means nothing to these people. "We gotta get outa this place if it's the last thing we ever do." It wouldn't hurt my feelings one bit if we put some isolationism into the mix.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. James


    July 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Harry Corrigan

    These wars may be working for the rich, but many Americans today are jobless, while many await their jobs getting exported to India or some other places. Our states and cities are broke. Teachers, state workers, police officers, fire fighters are being laid off. Foreclosures, debts, and fear of poverty have taken over the middle class. Perhaps, the most critical threat today against our way of life, our pursuit of happiness, and our prosperity, is the good wage jobs off shoring that is devastating our economy and the future of our progeny.

    July 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jansen

      Amen, That's the truth of it. The wars we are currently fighting have always been more of a threat to America than anyone else. They were started with the goals of gaining resources and war profiteering. When there's war profiteering guess who's paying for it? WE ARE! So not only are our sons and daughters being sacrificed, we're being robbed as well. It's a terrible betrayal of our nation and those who are sworn to protect it.

      July 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |

    The release of informant names raises Wikileak's founder and his supporters to nearly level of other ideological fascists that would kill those who don't believe what they do – http://disenchantedjourno.blogspot.com/2010/07/must-read-story-there-is-something.html

    July 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • SilverHair

      Link is a good read – that PhD jerk needs to be held accountable for any casualty since postings.

      July 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      All the names were redacted you twit.

      July 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JesusNeedsABreak

    Don't wanna be a martyr in this war. Don't wanna hear the same excuses anymore,
    That everything's a threat and it's only gonna get worse if we let it. Freedom is seldom found by beating someone to the ground and telling them how everything is gonna be now. Now if the tables were turned tell me how you would feel, if somebody busted up into YOUR house telling you to stay still! While the leaders will deny defeat ...Innocents they testify by dying in the streets" Amos Lee less

    July 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Greg

    After Vietnam, I am not a super patriot, but what they did is treason and should be treated as such. It weaklens our nation in confronting our enemies.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Except that isn't what "treason" means. They didn't release this to enemies for the purpose of harming our military. It was brought to public attention to show injustice. It is patriotic and brave. It is the law that you cannot leak classified material and he should be punished accordingly, however a just president would promptly issue a pardon considering the evidence this has made public.

      July 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Me

    Look this war is a crock of crap. We are killing off good military personal and no strategic plan. I understand that this young men and women are risking thier lives for national security. I can speak from experience I was in the Marines for 16 years and have nothing bad to say about the armed forces. They are taking thier orders and performing duties. But this war is a farce and to believe we are accomplishing something is a lie. If terror cells would like to attack us they would be able all day long. We cant even keep our own boarders free of drugs or put white collar criminal behind bars. We lack the ability to do many important functions because this country is controlled by greed. Thats right greed too many politicians have a personal agenda. Whats happens if we stop this war time spending. Oh no defense contractors wont be generating revenue. Less money for the rich did I say that correct. Yes I did that right having private contractors perform military tasks and pay civilians more than our own troops. Please if you think for one second that this war is about national security open your eyes. If you still really belief the politicians and the media encourage your sons and daughters to join the ranks. If you can enlist then run for your local recruiters office and sign up. Not too many people posting about pro war dont even have a clue what war does. They could not even imagine what its like to fire a weapon at the another human being. They lack the capacity to even understand how dangerous this game is. Go straight to hell if you think this about the homeland security.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • juxtapoz

      Pride comes before the fall, as usual.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    I think it's pathetic all of you saying, "If we end this war, they'll bring it to us!"

    Yeah, because tens of thousands of illegal immigrants don't cross our southern border every day, and because one "terrorist" couldn't slip past our pathetic defenses down there. If terrorism was really such a threat, wouldn't ONE single terrorist be able to cross the borders? Of course they would, and yet supposedly this war is "keeping them at bay"? What pathetic thinking....

    July 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. juxtapoz

    With all due respect to my fellow service members who are mad at anti-war people here, it's time we woke the $#@! up. Think back to 9/11. The WORLD was on our side. Patriotism was at a fever pitch. Our economy was manageable and fairly strong. Now, a decade later, we're no closer to getting bin Laden than we were on 9/11 when we KNEW WHERE HE WAS and Bush/Rummy LET HIM ESCAPE. Over 30,000 service members have been wounded and over 4,000 are dead. We've actually lost more troops because of that foolish Iraq operation than we did on 9/11.

    Our strategy hasn't slowed or stopped terrorism, it's made it WORSE. Anyone here who thinks our war has kept terrorists out of the USA is a fool. We're not fighting a unified, uniformed military that will stay where it is and take orders from the top. We're fighting MULTIPLE hydras that each have multiple heads, and every time we chop a head off, 2 more grow in its place. Even if we NUKED Afghanistan, we'd just stir up a hornet's nest all over the rest of the Middle East, plus Asia, Africa, and Europe. Existing terrorists would use it as a rallying cry, and lots of new, outraged people would join their cause in outrage as news footage of the charred remains of civilian neighborhoods filled every second of the news media for months to come. And as all those old and NEW terrorists started mobilizing, we'd have to find a way to FUND some kind of military defense that'd be even less focused than the multi-cell chaos going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seen our $#@!in' deficit lately? How much longer do you think we could keep this up if the war didn't just continue but got WORSE? What country would join OUR side to help, if we resorted to nukes or carpet-bombing, or some other kill 'em all strategy? Anyone who did may as well paint a bullseye on their backs.

    We HAD a chance to win this, back when Rumsfeld let bin Laden escape, and before our forces were divided and distracted by that stupid Iraqi oil scheme. We blew that, so now these are the choices we have. All our power, all our money, all of our strength, and we've been undone by a bunch of lunatics who live in caves because we let a daddy's boy and an oil-obsessed, 5-time draft dodger take charge of a war in 2 countries we don't know much about, run by cultures we never tried to understand. This "never say die" BS may sound good at your local tea bagger rally, but THOSE people aren't the one's deploying and dying. Face the truth, folks, America made a string of bad choices and it cost us our best ways out of this quagmire. We at the ground level(the military) refuse to give up because that's our job, but Pres. Obama doesn't have that luxury. President Obama has to consider how to PAY for this. He's got to consider the hard intelligence we don't get, and he has to do the most PAINFUL thing of all which is FACE REALITY.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Seems like our fellow countrymen are incapable of swallowing their pride and being pragmatic in the face of humility.

      Our pride will be our undoing.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • PacerLJ35

      I disagree with you...and no, I'm not a "tea bagger" rally attendee...I've deployed to the middle east four times since 2003.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • coffeebean02


      July 29, 2010 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. PacerLJ35

    These kind of low-intensity conflicts (ie, Vietnam, Balkans, etc) take many more years to conclude than a high-intensity conflict between nation-states (ie, WWII). The latter only requires defeat of one of the parties...the former requires legitimizing your side of the battle (such as what we did in Iraq and are doing in Afghanistan).

    To those who say we "lost" in Iraq, we did not. Iraq is on its way to better days, and their government continues to improve and gain more trust with the people, and as that happens, the US gradually draws down. The same could happen in Afghanistan but it will require out-of-the-box thinking (ie, setting up a type of government that works for them) and patience. If the Afghans can get some kind of national government that works with the local and regional tribal powers, there can and will be a peaceful future for this country that has essentially been a war zone for centuries. It cannot happen the same way we achieved our growing success in Iraq, because those two countries are so very different, but it can be done.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. AWi

    1 trillion dollars spent and 1.7 million casualties suffered in both wars. With that much money EACH of the injured or killed could have a business, a house and a couple of cars.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. AWi

    Correction: 2.7 million casualties, but still enough money spent to have paid for a business, a house and a couple of cars for each.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. MaryBeth

    who really leaded these files, what do they want to take our mind off of? pay attention.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
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