Trove of Secret Military Documents Offers Grim Picture of Afghan War

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General Petraeus has his work cut out for him. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Thanks to website WikiLeaks, more than 90,000 U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan are now available for public consumption. In one of the biggest leaks of classified documents since the Vietnam War's Pentagon Papers, the site released the material to the New York Times, the Guardian, and German newspaper Der Spiegel several weeks ago, under the condition that they would wait until Sunday night to report on it. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange described the reports as “the total history of the Afghan war from 2004 to 2010, with some important exceptions — U.S. Special Forces, CIA activity and most of the activity of other non-U.S. groups.”


The extensive findings paint a bleak picture of the conflict in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces suspect that Pakistan, "an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions," the Times reported. The Guardian reported that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency was suspected of plots ranging from an attempt to poison troops' beer supplies to a shipment of 1,000 motorcycles for suicide attacks to a plan to assassinate Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai.


The documents list devastating, previously unknown civilian losses due to both Taliban and coalition forces, consisting primarily of "all of these people being killed in the small events that we haven't heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events."


There are also new details on the use of remote-control predator drones against the Taliban, as well as a secret group of soldiers, known as Task Force 373, charged with covertly killing senior Taliban members.


Of course, the White House is not pleased. The administration has already issued a condemnation of the disclosure, arguing it “put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk” (a claim the Times refutes in a preamble to its reportage). The administration also made sure to note that these documents cover a span of years during which George W. Bush was president, a time before “President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years.”


In an interview with Der Spiegel, WikiLeaks founder Assange said:


I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.


The massive leak also puts more attention on Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst who had access to classified information and is already being held in a military prison for the release of documents on the Iraq war. The Guardian reported that a chat-room participant named "Bradass87," thought to be Manning, told computer hacker Adrian Lamo that he "had leaked the material, suggesting that he had taken in blank CDs, labeled as Lady Gaga's music, slotted them into his high-security laptop and lip-synched to nonexistent music to cover his downloading."


Inside the Fog of War: Reports From the Ground in Afghanistan [NYT]

Leaks provide ground-level account of Afghan war [WP]

Tens of thousands of alleged Afghan war documents go online [CNN]