Exclusive: Wikileaks - Afghan “War Logs” Crisis?
by THE EDITOR
July 26, 2010
Once again, Wikileaks has revealed controversial information regarding US and Coalition troops’ involvement in an ongoing war. In May, 22-year old Private First Class Bradley E. Manning of Potomac, Maryland, was arrested for sending details to the online leak source. Manning had been based in Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, and had boasted of leaking a video of a helicopter gunship attack in Baghdad, where civilians appear to have been killed. That video, released in April by Wikileaks, was only a section of the thousands of documents he had allegedly passed on. His data had been collected between November 19, 2009 and May 2010. A website has been set up to support Manning against the charges leveled at him.
Now, a massive dump of information has appeared on the Wikileaks website, relating to the War in Afghanistan, and most of it is exceedingly damaging to the image of the war that has recently been presented by the administration. A total of 92,000 documents have been placed online. Once loaded and decompressed, these documents fill up 3.5 Gb of disk space.
The whistle-blower site agreed to send previews of these documents to the New York Times, the German magazine Der Spiegel and the Guardian (all news sources with a left-wing bias) to allow them to prepare for simultaneous publication.
The “Afghan War Logs” claim to be about information from 2004 to 2010, but it seems that the relevant data ends at around 2009, and as such, the data cannot be used as a measure of what is currently going on.
The person who passed on the original material apparently wanted certain material to be held back, for fear of risking military lives. That individual seems to be Bradley E. Manning. But what is already in the public domain as of today, via the Guardian, Der Spiegel and New York Times, involves the following.
· There is a so-called “black unit” run by American military forces which is charged with hunting down Taliban leaders and killing them without trial. Under Obama, these operations have become more frequent, and civilians are said to have been killed in such operations. The identities of these Taliban targets were kept on a capture-list of around 70 members, which was used by a secret commando unit named Task Force 373.
· Certain rumors that have been reported for the past few years (often based upon leaks from key US intelligence officials) have been confirmed: that Pakistan’s military intelligence unit, the ISI, has been closely involved with supporting Afghanistan and the insurgents, giving advice to the Taliban and allowing free association of ISI and Taliban. The ISI has even been involved with plotting assassinations of members of the Afghan government. This is while Pakistan annually receives $1 billion in American funding.
· Deadly unmanned drone aircraft, operated from a base in Nevada, are being used more frequently in airstrikes.
· The Taliban has access to heat-seeking missiles. During the Russian war in Afghanistan, this was suspected. The Afghans have not had much success with these heat-seeking missiles, but the American forces have apparently tried to suppress this information.
· Funds sent to Afghanistan for humanitarian aid have gone missing – almost certainly going to the insurgents. An orphanage set up in Gardez was shown to have had no orphans a year after its opening.
· Coalition partners have allegedly been involved in revenge attacks. On August 16, 2007, following a roadside IED attack, a Polish contingent attacked a village, and fired mortars – one of which detonated on the roof a home where a wedding party was going on with members of the Jalal Zaid tribe. One man, four women and a baby were killed at the scene, and three women were injured. One of these was nine months pregnant. The Polish soldiers were apparently sent home soon after the incident.
· The British army has been involved in at least 21 cases of Afghan civilians being shot or killed. These incidents have not been mentioned previously by the British military, politicians or press.
Until very recently Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, had denied that there was a large cache of material, while his website was obviously liaising with the three newspapers for them to get their “scoop”.
In an interview on Britain’s Channel 4 news, Australian-born Assange stated that
“we have a stated commitment to a particular kind of process and objective, and that commitment is to get censored material out and never to take it down. That commitment has driven our technical and legal process and has resulted in sources understanding that we are the most trusted organization to give material to and we always fight attempted censorship and have always won…
… But we are creating a space behind us for other media and publishing organizations to operate in a safer way and that, I think, will have long term consequences.”
On a few occasions, we have reported here on FSM the ongoing involvement of Hamid Gul – who was head of the ISI between 1987 and 1989 – in providing assistance to the Taliban and also insurgents. Our mentions can be found here, here and here. The documents, according to the New York Times, which has time to study their documents, state that:
General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.
For example, one intelligence report describes him meeting with a group of militants in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, in January 2009. There, he met with three senior Afghan insurgent commanders and three “older” Arab men, presumably representatives of Al Qaeda, who the report suggests were important “because they had a large security contingent with them.”
Gul was said in several of the leaked reports to have visited madrassas in Peshawar (capital city of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, near the borderlands with Afghanistan) to have looked for recruits to fight in the Afghan Taliban vs Coalition troops conflict. Gul denied the reports, stating: “I have had no hand in it. American intelligence is pulling cotton wool over your eyes.”
Though the leaked data does not cover events after December 2009, they may shed some light on a strange incident that took place in Pakistan in spring of this year. When former ISI senior operative, Khalid Khawaja, was kidnapped in March this year in North Waziristan, he was shown in a “confession” video stating that he had been sent to talk to insurgents by Hamid Gul. Also kidnapped with Khawaja was another former senior ISI figure – Colonel Imam Sultan Tarar. The two men stated on a video that they had been following advice given by former Army Chief General Aslam Baig and former DG ISI Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Gul. Khawaja had added that a currently-serving ISI official, Colonel Sajjad, had urged the men to visit Taliban leaders. Khawaja was subsequently murdered, and the fate of Colonel Imam and British documentary maker Asad Qureshi (who was accompanying the two former ISI officials) is unknown.
Last night, the White House sent out a memo to reporters called “Thoughts on Wikileaks” which included the following:
I don’t think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we’ve said as much repeatedly and on the record. Attached please find a document with some relevant quotes from senior USG officials.
The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.
Note the interesting graphs (pasted below) from the Guardian’s Wikileaks story. I think they help put these documents in context.
4) As you report on this issue, it’s worth noting that Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.
The White House email made reference to mentions made by President Obama on the subject of Afghanistan, which can be found here (pdf), and also a specific passage in the Guardian’s reporting:
But for all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated. The same characters – famous Taliban commanders, well-known ISI officials – and scenarios repeatedly pop up. And few of the events predicted in the reports subsequently occurred.
A retired senior American officer said ground-level reports were considered to be a mixture of "rumours, bullsh*t and second-hand information" and were weeded out as they passed up the chain of command. "As someone who had to sift through thousands of these reports, I can say that the chances of finding any real information are pretty slim," said the officer, who has years of experience in the region.
If anything, the jumble of allegations highlights the perils of collecting accurate intelligence in a complex arena where all sides have an interest in distorting the truth.
National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones also issued a condemnation in a press release:
The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents - the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009. On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years. This shift in strategy addressed challenges in Afghanistan that were the subject of an exhaustive policy review last fall. We know that serious challenges lie ahead, but if Afghanistan is permitted to slide backwards, we will again face a threat from violent extremist groups like al Qaeda who will have more space to plot and train. That is why we are now focused on breaking the Taliban's momentum and building Afghan capacity so that the Afghan government can begin to assume responsibility for its future. The United States remains committed to a strong, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan.
Since 2009, the United States and Pakistan have deepened our important bilateral partnership. Counter-terrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al Qaeda's leadership. The Pakistani military has gone on the offensive in Swat and South Waziristan, at great cost to the Pakistani military and people. The United States and Pakistan have also commenced a Strategic Dialogue, which has expanded cooperation on issues ranging from security to economic development. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also improved their bilateral ties, most recently through the completion of a Transit-Trade Agreement. Yet the Pakistani government - and Pakistan's military and intelligence services - must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups. The balance must shift decisively against al Qaeda and its extremist allies. U.S. support for Pakistan will continue to be focused on building Pakistani capacity to root out violent extremist groups, while supporting the aspirations of the Pakistani people.
There is much that historians could learn from the documents in terms of how intelligence was recorded, but so far, it can only be hoped that these documents will not lead to danger for US and Coalition troops. The worst aspects of such leaks, while a war is in progress, will be their effects upon morale. The problem is not the morale of American and coalition forces, who are unlikely to be too dispirited by what is revealed, but the morale of the enemy. Morale-boosting for Islamist supporters of the insurgencies, and also the liberal/progressive anti-war activists, happened after images from Abu Ghraib prison were released.
The Abu Ghraib pictures were seized upon not just for what they were – an example of poor control of a prison by a few individuals from one unit – but for what they allegedly represented. The myth circulated that if these pictures were the ones that got released, it was rational to assume these would have been the tip of an iceberg; that there “must” have been a bigger stash of pictures that would never make it into the public domain, featuring even worse abuse.
When the video of the shooting incident from Iraq was revealed by Wikileaks in April, it sent a wave of hysteria through Islamist websites. The implied message on these sites was that the shooting was a confirmation of what Islamists had alleged all along – that the evil American Crusaders deliberately chose to murder Muslims.
In an era of international mass-communication via the internet, where supporters of Islamism and terrorism have already established themselves and where propaganda can be disseminated at the click of a mouse, the revelations of Wikileaks will be used in the propaganda war.
In modern times, from the First World War onwards, propaganda has been as integral part of warfare strategy as weaponry, intelligence and manpower. And here, Wikileaks and its left-leaning founder and editor Julian Assange is certainly attempting to change the course of the war by revealing this information.
In his Channel 4 interview he stated:
“We've seen legislative consequences as a result [of previous leaks on other issues], we've seen changes in governance, ministers being fired and so on. Clear cut outcomes. Other outcomes are more diffuse - for example, how a population feels about the progress of a war. This is something that's not easy to measure. Does it result in concrete policy changes? We know it does, but it's hard to correlate…
… They [the current leaked documents] cover all US military operations, with the exclusion of some special forces operations and the CIA. It covers each civilian kill, each military kill, when and where it happened. It is the most comprehensive history of a war ever to be published during the course of the war….
… The nearest equivalent is perhaps the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg in the 1970s, which was about 10,000 papers - but that was already four years old when it was released.”
There are 92,000 documents in the current online leak. Assange states that he has held back some on account of their potential to compromise some ongoing operations, though Assange is in no position to decide which documents could compromise lives and which may not. If Bradley Manning is the originator of these documents, he certainly would not be in any position to know the deeper strategic implications of the documents he allegedly passed on.
Assange claims that the full complement of the “Afghan War Logs” involves 200,000 documents. More revelations will be fed out by Wikileaks as Assange sees fit, and once again the “progressive” news sources who had the “scoop” will find their circulation benefiting from the revelations. Expect more comments and articles on this subject…….