Afghan war documents detail U.S. struggles
website releases trove of classified reports
A six-year archive of classified military documents made public Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.
The secret documents, to be released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.
The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the voluminous records several weeks ago on the con-
Taliban say they killed a U.S. sailor and caught another, A6
Continued from A dition that they not report on the material before Sunday.
The documents — about 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.
As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a conflict hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.
The publication of this material comes as Congress and the public grow increasingly skeptical of the deepening U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and its chances for success as next year’s deadline to begin withdrawing troops looms.
The reports shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:
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 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 raids. From 2001 to 2008, the CIA paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary. information.
There are fleeting reminders of how the war began in the occasional references to the elusive Osama bin Laden. In some reports he is said to be attending meetings in Quetta, Pakistan. His money man is said to be flying from Iran to North Korea to buy weapons. Bin Laden has supposedly ordered a suicide attack against Afghan President Hamid Karzai. These reports all seem secondhand at best. In 2008, 0 Green Berets from one Special Forces unit were awarded the Silver Star for their actions in battle in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Commandos have had a major role in the Afghan war.