The Wikileaks document dump of 92,000 reports on the Afghanistan War has been touted as the modern day version of the Pentagon Papers. What the Wikileaks revelations seems to be is a restatement of the obvious.
The documents, provided to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegal, covers the period between January 2004 and December 2009, when the Obama administration began the Afghan surge in earnest. The New York Times breathlessly relates some of the takeaways from the documents, hitherto considered classified, as if they were something new, which they are not for anyone who had been paying attention to open-source information or had just common sense.
Among the “revelations”:
“The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.”
Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the recent history of Afghanistan has figured this one out a long time again. Helicopters are generally not downed with AK-47s.
“Secret commando units like Task Force 373 – a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives – work from a ‘capture/kill list’ of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.”
In other words, we’re killing the enemy in Afghanistan but, on occasion, kill innocents, whose friends and relatives get resentful about it. Who knew that sort of thing ever happened in a war?
“The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.”
So, what we’re saying here is that sometimes drone missions fail, and sometimes drones even crash and have to be retrieved. This is truly shocking.
“The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.”
The CIA has been doing stuff in Afghanistan. Time, doubtless, to reconstitute the Church Committee.
The conclusions of the New York Times is even more telling:
“Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements – attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.”
In other words, the US military didn’t actually lie or anything like that. But it may have not told the whole truth or sought to mislead, maybe for intelligence reasons? Next thing you know, we’ll find out that the military lied about Operation Overlord up to June 6, 1944.
The Obama administration has expressed anger about the release of the Afghanistan Papers, which seems a bit ironic considering Barack Obama’s previous expressed beliefs about similar actions, like the release of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers. But, overall, the Wikileaks document dump is more an embarrassment to the Obama administration than it is an intelligence disaster for the Afghanistan War, barring, of course, any hitherto unknown data hidden in the 92,000 pieces of paper.
View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan, C. J. Chivers, Carlotta Gall, Andrew W. Lehren, Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, and Eric Schmitt, with contributions from Jacob Harris and Alan McLean, New York Times, July 25th, 2010