In one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history, Wikileaks has released over 90,000 classified documents to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Much of what is revealed won’t exactly come as a surprise. I doubt, for example, that most people will be shocked to hear that Pakistan, which is receiving more than $1billion a year from the U.S., has been aiding the Taliban insurgency. What is significant about the documents is that they reveal a systemic incongruity between what the military knows and what they’re telling the public and media. Some of the highlights include:

  • Reconnaissance┬ádrones, which are used to survey and strike targets and whose use has doubled under President Obama, are mired in technical problems and glitches that contradicts the official portrait painted of them as a reliable panacea for the war. 38 drones have crashed on combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and because each drone is packed with advanced technology, each crash necessitates dangerous retrieval operations by troops, often into Taliban held territory.
  • Task Force 373: a “black” unit, independent of the chain of command, that receives its orders directly from the Pentagon and has been tasked with the extrajudicial killing or capturing of 2,000 senior Taliban and Al-Qaida figures without trial. According to the Guardian: “[The leaked documents] raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.” The documents reveal numerous cases where civilians were killed or wounded by TF-373. These cases were often covered up in official statements to the press. In one incident, TF-373 called in an air attack on a village, despite the Taliban appearing to have already retreated from the area. After the bombing, the military released a press statement claiming to have killed several militants, with no mention of civilian casualties. The leaked documents, however, reveal the press statement was a lie and a secret memo documenting the casualties of the attack reads as follows: “12 US wounded, two teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy wounded, one girl killed, one woman killed, four civilian men killed, one donkey killed, one dog killed, several chickens killed, no enemy killed, no enemy wounded, no enemy detained.”
  • NYT: “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.”
  • The Afghan police force, which the Pentagon is spending billions on to train, is largely viewed as incompetent and corrupt by Afghanis. According to the NYT: “The reports recount episodes of police brutality, corruption petty and large, extortion and kidnapping. Some police officers defect to the Taliban. Others are accused of collaborating with insurgents, arms smugglers and highway bandits. Afghan police officers defect with trucks or weapons, items captured during successful ambushes or raids.”
  • Hundreds of civilian casualties, coalition information on which has often been either false or misleading. In one incident, Polish troops, possibly in a revenge attack, mortared a wedding celebration, killing 6 civilians. Although those troops were eventually put on trial, most incidents of civilian casualties are not investigated. Under General McChrystal, efforts were made to try to lessen civilian casualties. His replacement, General Petraeus, is, however, expected to loosen “restraints aimed at cutting civilian deaths.”

The general picture revealed by the documents is that the war has been far less of a success than is portrayed by the Pentagon or the White House. The insurgency, for example, has been far more effective than is portrayed by the military. According to the documents, the insurgents are often controlling the pace and direction of the war and bleeding the U.S. military in what the NYT calls “a war of small cuts.”

In response to the leak, the White House is accusing Wikileaks of putting lives at risk, a claim that is contradicted by the Guardian, noting that “most of the material, though classified “secret” at the time, is no longer militarily sensitive. A small amount of information has been withheld from publication because it might endanger local informants or give away genuine military secrets. Wikileaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, obtained the material in circumstances he will not discuss, said it would redact harmful material before posting the bulk of the data on its “uncensorable” servers.””