After weeks of speculation where war opponents were licking their chops and the administration was sweating bullets, Wikileaks has released 92,000 documents summarizing in detail the day to day operations on the ground in Afghanistan as well as pungent assessments of our Afghan allies and our supposed friends in Pakistan.
In truth, there are only mild surprises gleaned so far from the document dump. Three news outlets – The New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Speigel – were given access to the material weeks ago with the caveat that they not release anything until yesterday.
A few highlights courtesy of the New York Times:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
There is also extensive documentation and speculation about the role of Pakistan’s wayward intelligence agency, the ISI, in cooperating with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Again, this is not earth shattering news as the American government has been lodging complaint after complaint with both the former government headed by President Musharraff and the current government about a blind eye being cast by the military and civilian authorities in Pakistan toward activities by their own intelligence service.
In the New York Times report, a good point is made about the provenance of this intelligence:
Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.
Much of the information – raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan- cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.
But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.
Thus, a critical reason why clueless idiots like Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, should be prevented from acting like idiot children in dumping this startling amount of information raw, unexpurgated, without context and without reason on the public. The fact is that Assange doesn’t care what effect his triumphal act of America-hate has on live troops, the debate over the war, the effect on policy where thousands of lives are at stake, or even on advancing understanding of what is happening in Afghanistan. This was a reckless, petulant, adolescent, tantrum thrown by a cold, calculating, glory hunting ignoramus. And that goes double for the individual who purloined these documents in the first place.
Clearly, too much information gathered by the government is being classified as “Secret” or “Top Secret.” Many times, that classification is used to hide perfidious deeds or even simple political misbehavior. The volume of classified documents grows astronomically every year with more and more government bureaucrats given the ability to classify what they are doing. This is not a prudent use of the necessary secrecy that attends some government functions and actions. And if Assange was a crusader to rectify that imbalance, he might receive a little more sympathy from me.
But he is not. His purposes are malevolent – to destroy the credibility of the United States government and deliberately undermine public confidence in the war. And his methods are unconscionable. He – a foreigner after all – has presumed to inject himself into a domestic political debate. I don’t want to hear that crap about our actions affecting everyone else in the world and that therefore, foreigners have a perfect right to butt their noses into our domestic politics. That is so nonsensical as to be sky blue idiocy. The very same people who make that argument would scream bloody murder if we injected ourselves into their domestic arguments about policies that affected the United States. Assange doesn’t have a leg to stand on morally, or politically for that matter. That’s because for all the hype, for all the worry that this document dump engendered in government, this may be the most spectacularly banal scoop in history.
Certainly, these are no Pentagon Papers. The information that has been held back from the public appears to be reasonable and necessary to the war effort, including the idea that the war was not going as well as some in the military and White House were saying. Did people expect otherwise? Besides, it is impossible, given their nature, for these reports to have documented the broad strategic efforts by the military since most of the documents appear to give a worm’s eye view of the conflict, reporting on purely local conditions rather than trying to judge the overall progress made by both the American military and the civilian rebuilding efforts.
The only revelations that might merit a page one story in the media were the news that the Taliban has gotten a hold of some relatively ineffective (old) ground to air shoulder fired missiles (probably Stingers) and the larger extent of civilian casualties that the Pentagon chose not to publicize. As for the latter, the Pentagon may have not been forthcoming, but regional media was not shy about reporting on Afghan civilians being killed in our drone and manned air strikes. Domestic media was not reluctant in picking up on those reports either.
As for the missiles, the incident reports show that while there have been some successful strikes, many more were failures. That would seem to indicate either the Taliban don’t know how to use the missiles or they are older ordnance with attendant problems as far as aged rocket fuel, bad electronics, and perhaps even dud war heads. Was it necessary to keep their existence secret? Probably not. Then again, there may be tactical reasons for not revealing our knowledge of this. Perhaps we want the Taliban to think we don’t know they possess such weapons. It is a certainty that Mr. Assange doesn’t know and just as clearly, doesn’t care.
The civilian casualty cover up is more serious. The American people certainly have a right to know what their military is doing in their name. However, it should be obvious to anyone except the most willfully blind (Glenn Greenwald) that the extraordinary lengths to which our forces go not to kill civilians that comes through crystal clear in the incident reports gives the lie to contentions by Assange and others that war crimes are being committed. Even after General McChrystal altered the Rules of Engagement to reflect the most careful and prudent measures taken to not even carry out offensive operations if civilians were in the area – at the risk of the lives of our own men – civilians were wounded and killed. If you want to make an argument against causing any civilian casualties, you might as well go all the way and argue against the war. Anything less brands you as a hypocrite.
There were also domestic politics at play in Afghanistan in covering up civilian casualties. Do we know if the Afghan government was also reluctant to give the whole story about the deaths of ordinary people? Would it matter? It’s a tougher call than if you simply examine the surface of the story and not reflect on the broader implications involved in going out of our way to announce the deaths of Afghan civilians.
As for the question of should the documents have been published? Of course not. Anyone who gave that anti-American nutcase Julian Assange – an Australian by birth – access to those documents should be arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to jail for a very long time. Untold damage is being done simply because no one knows what use of this information will be made by the enemy. What intelligence can they glean from its contents? Certainly the Taliban can figure out some of our weaknesses by reading through these documents. For that reason alone, Assange himself should be relentlessly pursued and arrested.
It is highly likely that this irresponsible release will result in additional American casualties.
Cross Posted at Right Wing Nuthouse