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The War Logs: The Largest Pentagon Leak Ever

Posted by on July 26th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel today simultaneously published reporting based upon the largest leak of Pentagon secret files ever, more than 92,000 documents from the war in Afghanistan made available to them by Wikileaks. Of the three, the Guardian's coverage is far and away the best and most in-depth.

The newspapers admit they kept some secrets too sensitive for publication buried and the details in the document dump seem to be of the kind well known already to wonks who have followed Afghanistan reporting over the years, but the manner and volume of the War Log's release will doubtless crystallize the opinions of many who were only casual readers of news from the West's occupation there. With public opinion against that occupation running at some 60% in the U.S. and over 70% in the UK and Germany, these leaks will put further pressure on Western governments to find an exit sooner rather than later.

Among the stories on which new light has been shed:

Pakistan and to a far lesser extent Iran have been offering funding and other direct aid to Taliban groups for years. Pakistan's ISI is reported to have been behind many Taliban targeting decisions, including on U.S. and coalition troops, despite it being an ostensible ally.

– The U.S. has been using an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. This team has been responsible for the deaths of Afghan policemen and civilians, including children but authorities seem to have been more concerned with keeping its operations secret than curtailing its zeal.

– There have been over 50 incidents of "Green on Green" fire – where Afghan police or soldiers opened fire on their fellow uniformed countrymen, many begun by drug use, corruption or indiscipline.

– There are reports of hundreds of border clashes between Pakistani troops and their Afghan or American opposite numbers – far more than previously reported.

– The 140 reports of incidents involving the shooting and blowing up of civilians by Coalition troops reveal a casual disregard for human life, including "nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys…'warning shots' often seem to cause death or injury, generally ascribed to ricochets."

The Guardian's editorial says:

"a very different landscape is revealed from the one with which we have become familiar. These war logs – written in the heat of engagement – show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised "public" war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.

… However you cut it, this is not an Afghanistan that either the US or Britain is about to hand over gift-wrapped with pink ribbons to a sovereign national government in Kabul. Quite the contrary. After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm. A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this."

But if the war in Afghanistan cannot be won like this then it cannot be won at all. This is the nature of war before it is cleaned up for ISAF press release. As Carl Von Clausewitz wrote:

"The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently—like the effect of a fog or moonshine—gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance."

It is far better that we've been able to peer into that fog than that we were denied the chance.

The Obama administration's reaction?

In a statement, the White House said the chaotic picture painted by the logs was the result of "under-resourcing" under Obama's predecessor, saying: "It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009."

The White House also criticised the publication of the files by Wikileaks: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."

This is plain CYA bullshit. Every paper involved said it consulted to prevent disclosure of secrets which could negatively impact the situation on the ground at present and all the coverage of the occupation since December 2009 reinforces that it has remained just as chaotic, just as F.U.B.A.R. Did the White House not notice the trend? The peak in monthly violent incidents so far in 2010 is twice as high as 2008.


Glenn Greenwald tweets.

Will be interesting to see how many Democrats follow WH's lead in condemning WikiLeaks for exposing truth about the war

Yes, it will. Those that do, not to put too fine a point on it, will be sharing moral space with the Bush administration circa 2006.

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to “The War Logs: The Largest Pentagon Leak Ever”

  1. Craig says:

    Having avoided for the most part the dreaded “Viet Nam Syndrome” so far, with most media willing to be complicit, this could be the last chance for the American government to come clean about the facts. You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

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