WikiLeaks disclosures unlikely to change course of Afghanistan war

The White House says the release of 91,000 secret military documents is a breach of federal law and a potential threat to U.S. military personnel.
By Greg Jaffe and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In the first 24 hours after the unauthorized release of more than 91,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, a few things became clear to the officials, lawmakers and experts reading them:

-- New evidence that the war effort is plagued by unreliable Afghan and Pakistani partners seems unlikely to undermine fragile congressional support or force the Obama administration to shift strategy.

-- The disclosure of what are mostly battlefield updates does not appear to represent a major threat to national security or troops' safety, according to military officials.

-- The documents' release could compel President Obama to explain more forcefully the war's importance, military analysts said. Some have criticized Obama for not explaining the administration's strategy for bolstering the weak Afghan government and countering the Taliban's rise.

White House and Pentagon officials sought to diminish the significance of the leak by arguing that there were few, if any, revelations in the documents. Instead, they expressed alarm that the group had posted such a large amount of classified material that could compromise the safety of U.S. forces and their Afghan allies.

"What is new and unprecedented is the scale and scope of this leak," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "But the content of it is neither new or very illuminating."

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress called for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to open an investigation into the matter. Pakistani officials angrily dismissed as malicious rumors the leaked intelligence reports suggesting that their spy service was collaborating with the Taliban.

A large number of the secret documents were produced by low-level officers reporting on events in their sector at a time when the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and the Taliban insurgency was gaining strength.

The flurry of hastily written documents provide a disturbing, disorienting and often incoherent history of the U.S. war effort from 2004 through last December, when Obama announced his new strategy for the country.

There are detailed accounts of Afghan civilian casualties. One report from 2007 chronicles a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos in Paktika province that was aimed at killing an al-Qaeda commander. Instead, U.S. rockets killed seven children.

Other reports document apparently criminal behavior by Afghan government officials, including the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl by an Afghan police commander in the fall of 2009.

Then there are dozens of documents that revolve around rumors passed to U.S. forces by Afghan villagers or partners in the field. One such account suggested that Taliban fighters were planning to commandeer a truck carrying U.S. military food, inject the food with poison and smuggle the goods back onto a U.S. base. The food attack never happened.

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