Leaks provide ground-level account of Afghan war

WikiLeaks posts blow-by-blow descriptions of covert operations against Taliban.

US troops Afghanistan 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
US troops Afghanistan 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Some 90,000 leaked US military records posted online Sunday amount to a blow-by-blow account of six years of the Afghanistan war, including unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings as well as covert operations against Taliban figures.
The online whistle-blower WikiLeaks posted the documents on its website Sunday. The New York Times, London's Guardian newspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegel were given early access to the documents.
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The White House condemned the document disclosure, saying it "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."
The leaked records include detailed descriptions of raids carried out by a secretive US special operations unit called Task Force 373 against what US officials considered high-value insurgent and terrorist targets. Some of the raids resulted in unintended killings of Afghan civilians, according to the documentation.
Among those listed as being killed by the secretive unit was Shah Agha, described by the Guardian as an intelligence officer for an IED cell, who was killed with four other men in June 2009. Another was a Libyan fighter, Abu Laith al-Libi, described in the documents as a senior al-Qaida military commander. Al-Libi was said to be based across the border in Mir Ali, Pakistan, and was running al-Qaida training camps in North Waziristan, a region along the Afghan border where U.S. officials have said numerous senior al-Qaida leaders were believed to be hiding.
The operation against al-Libi, in June 2007, resulted in a death tally that one U.S. military document said include six enemy fighters and seven noncombatants — all children.
The Guardian reported that more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are on a "kill or capture" list, known as JPEL, the Joint Prioritized Effects List. It was from this list that Task Force 373 selected its targets.
The New York Times said the documents — including classified cables and assessments between military officers and diplomats — also describe US fears that ally Pakistan's intelligence service was actually aiding the Afghan insurgency.
According to the Times, the documents suggest Pakistan "allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly 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."
The Guardian, however, interpreted the documents differently, saying they "fail to provide a convincing smoking gun" for complicity between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban.
In a statement released Sunday, White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones lauded a deeper partnership between the US and Pakistan, saying, "Counterterrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al-Qaida's leadership." Still, he called on Pakistan to continue its "strategic shift against insurgent groups."
Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani said the documents "do not reflect the current on-ground realities." The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are "jointly endeavoring to defeat al-Qaida and its Taliban allies militarily and politically," he added.
Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported that the records show Afghan security officers as helpless victims of Taliban attacks.
The magazine said the documents show a growing threat in the north, where German troops are stationed.
The classified documents are largely what's called "raw intelligence" — reports from junior officers in the field that analysts use to advise policymakers, rather than any high-level government documents that state US government policy.
WikiLeaks said the leaked documents "do not generally cover top-secret operations." The site also reported that it had "delayed the release of some 15,000 reports" as part of what it called "a harm minimization process demanded by our source," but said it may release the other documents after further review.
Jones, the White House adviser, took pains to point out that the documents describe a period from January 2004 to December 2009, mostly during the administration of President George W. Bush.
That was before "President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years," Jones said.
But Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."
A different US official said the Obama administration had already told Pakistani and Afghan officials what to expect from the document release, in order to head off some of the more embarrassing revelations.
Another US official said it may take days to comb through all the documents to see what they mean to the US war effort and determine their potential damage to national security. That official added that the US isn't certain who leaked the documents.