By Max Fisher
WASHINGTON, DC – Six years' worth of secret U.S. documents relating to the war in Afghanistan have been released by Wikileaks, an Iceland-based website that collects and distributes such information. Some news organizations were given the tens of thousands of documents several weeks early so that they could sift through the files and prepare their coverage. The revelations are sure to spark wide debate about the U.S. role in Afghanistan and the nature of the ongoing war. Here are what currently appear to be the five biggest things we've learned so far.
Pakistani Intelligence Possibly Aiding Taliban The New York Times reports, "Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday." The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is said to be involved in "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." This network may be working "with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders." [Is Pakistan's spy service finally on our side?]
Drones Less Effective Than Claimed Der Spiegel reports, "the secret memos reveal the drawbacks of a weapon that has been lauded by the US military as a panacea, a view shared by the president. In his short time in office, Barack Obama has unleashed double the number of drone missions ordered by his seemingly trigger-happy predecessor, George W. Bush. ... But they are not always reliable. According to official reports, 38 Predator and Reaper drones have crashed while on combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ... each drone crash necessitates elaborate -- and dangerous -- salvage operations." [Should spy drones be used against the oil spill?]
30 Years Later, Taliban Still Have Stingers During the anti-Soviet Afghan War of the 1980s, the U.S. helped the Afghan insurgents secure stinger missiles. After the Soviet military withdrew and during the civil war of the 1990s, which is when the Taliban first emerged, the U.S. attempted to recover all of the missiles. But the New York Times reports, "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." [Why Pakistan blocked Facebook and Youtube.]
U.S. and Afghan Officials Covering Up Civilian Deaths The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder finds "at least 144 separate incidents" of civilian casualties "and subsequent cover-ups." He writes, "The failed special forces attempt to kill Abu Layth Ali Libi, which resulted in the deaths of civilians, suggests the willingness of some provisional governors to collude with the official storyline. ... There is a reference to a CIA paramilitary operative shooting at 30 yards a blind woman, something that was duly reported back to headquarters."
Bin Laden Match-Making for Insurgents The Guardian reports, "Insurgent reportedly given Arab wife by Bin Laden for his explosive exploits." The original military report reads, "So-called ABDULLAH is the brother of Kari NAJIMULLAH and is married to an Arab. His wife was a present by Osama BIN LADEN because ABDULLAH is an infamous specialist for RC IEDs." That last term means radio-controlled improvised explosive devices.