Those Afghan Wikileaks (Updated) -

Those Afghan Wikileaks (Updated)

POTTER: “The conflict has clearly been going worse, for longer, than we’ve been led to believe”


So Sunday plans went out the window when the Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel hit the web with huge packages of stories based on what the Times is calling The War Logs — thousands of military and intelligence reports from Afghanistan going back to 2005. The documents were leaked to Wikileaks, who then gave these papers early access to scrape them for stories. The raw data is available from Wikileaks. The Guardian has some excellent map-based analysis; the Times’ CJ Chivers has a heart-stopping piece about the attack on Outpost Keating. Wikipedia already has a decent entry.

Both the Times and Guardian have posted caveats about their use of the information; at the moment I don’t have much to say on the ethics of it all. I’ve spent the past few hours working through the database looking for interesting stories or events using a handful of keywords, nothing special. I’m sure some of you have been doing the same and I look forward to your comments and insights.

The big news is that the Taliban have been using surface to air missiles (some successor to the Stingers, apparently) against helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, which has been kept very quiet. There is also the revelation that Pakistan’s ISI is appears to be a Taliban accomplice.

A few other things that have jumped out at me so far:

1.The conflict has clearly been going worse, for longer, than we’ve been led to believe, even correcting for the suspicion that we were being misled.

2. The amount of friendly fire incidents is really high, but I kind of expected that. But more surprising is the amount of Green-on-Green (i.e. friendly Afghan vs friendly Afghan) violence. Some of it is accidental fog-of-war stuff, but I’m amazed at how much fighting and score-settling goes on between Afghan army members and Afghan police, from minor skirmishes to the guy who blew up his neighbour’s house, with the whole family inside.

3. The sheer number of civilians wounded and killed as a matter of course is depressing. From little girls getting run over by humvees to teenagers on bikes getting shot at roadblocks to entire families getting taken out by airstrikes… it makes you wonder how there can possibly be any goodwill left at all, any hearts and minds left to be won over. One story in particular left me shaking my head: coalition forces were using what they assumed to be an empty field for artillery practice. Only later did they find out they had killed a young girl who was herding some sheep. The elders carried her body down, but they apparently weren’t angry — they knew that ISAF routinely used the field for practice. A fee was negotiated as compensation for the dead girl, and for the dead sheep.

4. The flip side of this is the scale and frequency of attacks against young girls by the Taliban, especially girls schools. The intimidation is as routine as it is shocking:



5. Then there’s this:


Under Secretary Karen Hughes requests your assistance to support the dissemination of counterterrorism messages in response to a grisly video circulating in Pakistan showing a young boy affiliated with the Taliban beheading an adult Pakistani male.  Exploiting children and making them instruments of hate and death is a barbaric and abhorrent tactic of Taliban terrorists.

6. One thing this database gives is a much better sense of the tempo and pace and intensity of the conflict. Canadian officials won’t talk about much that is combat-related except deaths, so we don’t hear about what is obviously a clear routine of firefights, IED strikes, disabled vehicles, rocket and mortar attacks, and so on. The apparent constant contact with the enemy is something that surprised me. I wish the military was more upfront about this.

7. I don’t really understand this:

EOD team responded to suspect package received at KAF post office. Item was suspiciously like incident from 10 April 07. This one was mailed from Canada, return address from Los Angeles CA, addressed to Prince Charles and the Post Master General, Kandahar AF APO AE 09355. This one contained a letter and a business card. Team X-rayed item, found no explosive hazard and declared the package safe. Upon examination, it was discovered that the person who sent the letter was ready to sell information he had concerning the Italian International Mob, This information had a $10 million price tag. The letter continued on to wish the Prince a happy Easter and congratulated him on his new baby. Incident terminated without further adieu. Discussions are underway with other agencies to alert us when visiting dignitaries such as the Prince of Wales arrive.

8. Every now and then, you come across a report that starts out seeming as routine as all the rest, and then, suddenly,  the fog of acronyms and militarese clears and the shocking headlines come flooding back:

TF Bayonet reported an SVBIED strike in Kandahar. At 0855Z, KPRT reported an SVBIED detonated against the second vehicle of one of its four vehicle convoys. The blast caused damage to two vehicles (LUVW). The first vehicle sustained minor damage. However, the second vehicle sustained significant damage requiring it to be towed back to KPRT. An immediate reaction force from TF Bayonet moved to the site with TF IED and is currently exploiting the site. Also, as a result of the IED strike, one Canadian Foreign Service Representative was killed in action, and three Coalition soldiers were wounded in action. There were also two civilians killed and ten wounded. At 0918Z, TF Bayonet requested a MEDEVAC for the three Coalition soldiers. Patient one suffered an amputation, patient two is trapped in a vehicle, and patient three has severe internal bleeding. All three Coalition soldiers are listed as URGENT and patients two and three require a LITTER. MEDEVAC 01-15A (MM 01-15A) was approved by CJTF76 at 0920Z. MM 01-15A, wheels-up from KAF at 0934Z and wheels-up from PZ at 0953Z. TF IED was requested and CJTF76 approved request (ground transport) at 0939Z. MM01-15A, mission complete at 1010Z. The remains of the deceased Canadian Foreign Service Representative were transported to Kandahar Airfield by ground today. EOD destroyed two M72 AT (LAW) launchers (Coalition) damaged in the explosion.

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Those Afghan Wikileaks (Updated)

  1. Well there's no real news in there for anyone following events, but most people don't I suppose.

    Anyone it's a long overdue 'information bomb'….the one kind of bomb we need more of.

  2. Finally, a Pentagon Papers for Generation X. I'm sure it'll take months for us to extract the fullness of what these documents appear to demonstrate about the gut-wrenching cynicism of the so-called "War on Terror".

    The big news is that the Taliban have been using surface to air missiles (some successor to the Stingers, apparently)…

    Looks like the SAM expertise the Americans gave them in the late '80s is still coming in handy. Splendid

    I think the really big news is that Pakistan's ISI has been publicly outed as a huge logistical Taliban asset, something the U.S. must have known about, whilst they helpfully flooded that corrupt, brutal regime with billions in "aid" and allowed it to enhance its nuclear capability.

    I guess the only question now is, which Islamist hell-hole is it more of an American crime against humanity to coddle and bank-roll—Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? I say Pakistan, with SA a very competitive runner-up.

    • Interesting to see the contrast between how the NYT and Guardian played this angle. NYT basically makes it clear they think the ISI is working with the Taliban, Guardian says not so much.

      • Dion told us long time ago the real problem was in Pakistan. Since then the Taliban have carved their own country out of it.

        Pakistan has no interest in a stable Afghanistan, they have other problems to worry about without that.


          sorry, reflex.

        • Pakistan has a huge interest in a stable Afghanistan. An unstable Afghanistan is arguably worse for them than the U.S. What they don't want is an American controlled Afghanistan, particularly one that would be friendlier to India; or where Indian intelligence could use friendly consulates for operations.

          What Pakistan wants is an Afghanistan that it controls.

          • I don't know if Pakistan is a cohesive as we'd like to think.
            I get the feeling that there are many opposing political and ideological within the government that enhances the whole "left doesn't know what the right is doing syndrom". Of course this is just based on outside evidence, I've never been there.

      • That will be a continuing issue of interest … the difference in emphasis in the US, UK, and
        German publications. And what happens as other sites feed off the stories.

        • And here in Canada, aside from the Globe and La Presse, the major media have ignored the story 8 hours after the documents were posted for all to read.

          • The NatPost did one on how frustrated the Afghans are that we're leaving. Tossed in a little flattery about how much nicer we are than the Americans, even though they can't tell us apart, and don't know where Canada is.

          • National Post still has zero mention of the story. Either they dont have anyone working on sundays, or they are really, really useless at what they do.

          • People work on weekends in Canada??

          • During the one week of summer, no less!

          • They're all trained on Tony Clement's twitter it seems.

          • Most reporting on Afghanistan in Canada is done either by embeds (who may not have fantastic Internet access or may have been reporting in the field when it broke) or Hill reporters looking at the detainee issue (currently on vacation). Plus it was a weekend. Not sure how many junior weekend folks watching the desk have the international or military reporting experience to feel qualified to just dive in, find something and start reporting. More's the pity.

    • I find it surprising that anyone would find the revelation about the ISI supporting the Taliban surprising. This has been reported on in a number of publications for sometime – I've read at least 3 pieces on the Afghan war in the New Yorker that treat this information as a known quantity.

      • Yes, the issue has been bruited quite openly for years but in a largely conjectural way. The leaked documents provide a fairly novel substantiation of what has been merely suspected for some time. Also, the pro-Taliban collaboration would appear to be an institutional objective for Pakistani intelligence, rather than the pet project of a rogue cadre within the ISI, as many had assumed.

        • I agree these sources are excellent corroboration; but several sources have already explicitly reported direct ISI involvement in supporting the Taliban and discussed a number of larger strategic aims of Pakistan in wanting to control outcomes in Afghanistan by supporting Pashtuns and Taliban. Again, The New Yorker has been quite good for this.

          • The New Yorker has been quite good for this.

            …as have Eric Margolis and Robert Fisk, but, really, who listens to those cranks? ;)

  3. These are really interesting documents and stories. But it might be worthwhile to guard against confirmation bias. Just because something used to be a secret, doesn't mean that it was ever true, or that the memo writer was the definitive voice of the American intelligence establishment.

    I mean, the ISI has been under a microscope for literally decades. So another set of memos about how high-ranking American analysts suspect them of involvement with the Taliban really doesn't tell us anything new, and very few people have the background knowledge to evaluate the analysis for how this differs from previous findings.

    Similarly, those who delight in American comeuppance (I don't mean Potter here) will draw links to those CIA Stingers, while in fact most of these missiles are, if anything, apparently of an even earlier vintage, and the only suspected Stinger missed. There is almost no evidence here, at least as presented by the Guardian piece, that these are connected to the CIA Stingers, but to those who expect it to be the case, it becomes obvious. Almost as obvious as, say, well financed terrorist groups, given many years, eventually securing 30 year old untraceable weapons on the international black market. But that story doesn't fit with any juicy narratives.

    • …those who delight in American comeuppance…

      I can assure you that no one on this board is "delighting" in anything. Rather, the morally serious among us are, I am sure, grieving over the ongoing tragedy of an Afghan population being ground to shreds by the gears of perpetual war.

  4. Each of the three papers has its particular emphasis:
    – The New York Times likes to zoom in on what is of the most consequence in terms of US govt policy, and accordingly makes a big deal about the ties between Pakistan
    – The Guardian has a history of adopting a humanitarian perspective, and accordingly makes the biggest deal about the civilian causalities and how dirty the war is generally. The Guardian's left lean also comes through now and then
    – Der Spiegel has a German concern for militarism and accordingly focuses on how aggressive and cloak and dagger some covert ops were

    • Yes, if they all wrote from the same angle, and produced much the same story, less of the information would get out.

  5. Is there anything in there on the alleged capture of Mullah Omar? This was reported in the blogosphere months ago, but not in any MSM source. The link above includes some additional material, including apparent broadcasts from Afghani and Iranian television that confirm his capture.

    If this turns out to be true, a lot of journalists have a lot to answer for.

  6. There is much to digest here and not a lot of it is going to be very encouraging.
    One thing for certain: interest in the Parliamentary committee poring over the release of documents concerning the mistreatment of Afghan detainees is now pretty much dead.
    I bet there is more security sensitive information in the Wikileaks than in all the documents the Conservatives fought so hard to keep from release to fellow MP's.

    I'm guessing the persons traitors behind this release are against the troops

    These wars – the cost in human life, the economic costs, the deepening of the hatreds that started it all – just what the hell have we gained?

  7. Soooooo: Nine years; thousands of deaths; billions of dollars spent; more than a few long-cherished laws and norms shattered; a crappy international neighbourhood made crappier; the losing side of a civil war placed in power; a western stooge in power who is not actually controlled by the west; more opium!; an Iranian regime squeezed between two wars that appears nonetheless stronger; Russians who blew up the place first pay nothing and snicker from the sidelines; the sovereignty of Canada's Parliament placed in jeopardy; torturama; Homeland Security!; still no Bin Laden or Omar and, oh yeah, say Musharraf ten-times-fast!

    What's the mission again?

    • "What's the mission again?'

      Good question. I hope our leaders who got us mired in Afghanistan have the courage to stand up and define for us the goals and how it has all gone so horribly wrong.

    • Everyone sing…

      "Yes, we have no O-sama, we have no O-sama, to-day..".

  8. Andrew,


    6. One thing this database gives is a much better sense of the tempo and pace and intensity of the conflict. Canadian officials won't talk about much that is combat-related except deaths, so we don't hear about what is obviously a clear routine of firefights, IED strikes, disabled vehicles, rocket and mortar attacks, and so on. The apparent constant contact with the enemy is something that surprised me. I wish the military was more upfront about this.

    • I have harped on that particular point for a while from my cozy and safe perch here as a member of the Macleans,ca commentariat.

      At least from a Canadian media perspective there have been very few storeis on what the daily grind is for the soldiers who we are constantly reminded that we must support otherwise we are not good Canadians and we are giving succour to the enemy (THE TERRORISTS!).

      As citizens were are only ever told that a(nother) soldier has died, what a great person (s)he was and then the images of the piper and the ramp ceremony.

      We are told to wear red on Fridays and to mourn and grieve along a HIghway of Heroes but we have no description of what the circumstances are where they are carrying out this heroic action.

      Is it purely the government foisting the blanket of silence on us or has the media played along and not relaying any stories on what is really and truly going on?

  9. Also Andrew,

    I had heard that the documents leaked only describe the situation to the end of 2008. Is there any indication that things have improved if however slightly or that they have degraded even worse?


    • The Times says the records cover Jan. 2004 – Dec. 2009.

  10. Thanks.

  11. Some interesting points from Jay Rosen ……

    I think that the reaction of the establishment press to this – along with the "intelligence" articles in the WaPo
    last week – will be more interesting than the actual material, most of which has been written about already.