Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?

A big fuss has been made by the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel about the leaking of over 90,000 secret documents on the wikileaks website. They chronicle Afghani civilian casualties, a failing war and Pakistan not being entirely on the side of the US. However anyone following the conflict will know this already. They are both already slightly out of date, before the surge got going, and don’t tell us much we did not already know. Yet they may undermine public confidence in the war and they have damaged relations with the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
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Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

So many documents leaked

While each individual document on its own may be insignificant that so many have been leaked is very important. It is a massive breach of security.

Der spiegel

A total of 91,731 reports from United States military databanks relating to the war in Afghanistan are to be made publicly available on the Internet. Never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating... All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide an unvarnished image of the war in Afghanistan

[[Matthias Gebauer, John Goetz, Hans Hoyng, Susanne Koelbl, Marcel Rosenbach and Gregor Peter Schmitz, Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It, Spiegel Online, 25/7/10,,1518,708314,00.html%5D%5D As the Press secretary Robert Gibbs put it

Robert Gibbs

I think any time in which more than 90,000 top secret documents, which are against the law for me to give to you, would -- I think it would be safe to say it’s alarming to find 90,000 of them published on a website.

[[Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 26/7/2010,

That the White House has responded also shows that the documents and the leak has some importance.

National Security Advisor General James Jones

The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.

[[Statement of National Security Advisor General James Jones on Wikileaks, 25/7/10,

No because...

The number of documents don't really matter if they don't tell us anything new. Indeed the sheer numbers simply muddy the waters as it means we are relying on media organisations/organizations to tell us what they say rather than looking at them ourselves.

Tom Ricks

A huge leak of U.S. reports and this is all they get? I know of more stuff leaked at one good dinner on background.

[[Thomas E. Ricks, Underwhelmed by Wikileaks leaks,, 26/7/10,

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

Angers Pakistan

The Wikileaks documents have the potential to damage relations with Pakistan as it accuses them of playing both sides. Aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan while claiming to be on the side of the USA and taking lots of aid in the process. On a visit to India David Cameron accused Pakistan of exporting terror

Prime Minister David Cameron

We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. That is why this relationship is important. It should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and the UK is very clear on that point.

[[Nicholas Watt, Pakistan must not be allowed to promote export of terror, says David Cameron,, 28/7/10,

Huma Yusuf in the Christian Science Monitor argues that this condemnation was at least in part due to the wikileaks.[[Huma Yusuf, WikiLeaks row puts Britain's David Cameron on defensive with Pakistan, Christian Science Monitor, 29/7/10, It is certainly the case that it has damaged relations and forced Pakistan to defend itself. Pakistan considers the comments “damaging the prospects of regional peace” and has accused Cameron of placing too much emphasis on the wikileaks

Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan

He seems to be more reliant on information based on intelligence leaks, despite it lacking credibility or corroborating proof

[[British PM in India, sparks 'terror' row with Pakistan, Dawn, 29/7/10,

Pakistan has called upon a British envoy to dissect the British P.M's words. [[]] Relations are on the brink of being damaged; if they haven't been damaged already.

No because...

The wikileaks are not likely to damage relations between the coalition and Pakistan. The vast majority of the documents released have nothing to do with Pakistan and those that do are not confirmation of anything. Both sides are likely to realise that these are all old accusations and simply ignore them.

National Security Advisor General James Jones

These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.

Indeed General Jones argues that since the reports took place Pakistan and the USA have deepened their relationship.

National Security Advisor General James Jones

Since 2009, the United States and Pakistan have deepened our important bilateral partnership. Counter-terrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al Qaeda’s leadership... The United States and Pakistan have also commenced a Strategic Dialogue, which has expanded cooperation on issues ranging from security to economic development.

[[Statement of National Security Advisor General James Jones on Wikileaks, 25/7/10,

Arguing that the row caused by PM Cameron is caused by the wikileaks is grasping at straws with no proof. Indeed as presumably the PM has the information anyway and did not need the leak to tell him the chances are even without the wikileaks he would have made the same statement. This is even assuming that it damages relations rather than being a media storm in a teacup.

Pakistan and the United Kingdom have a robust and comprehensive partnership, including on counter-terrorism.

[[Statement on British Prime Minister’s remarks in India, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan, 28/7/10, This does not sound like the Pakistanis think that the relationship is damaged.


The British P.M seems somewhat confused/misinformed about America's stance on and alliance with Pakistan.

U.S defense secretary Robert Gates

What I see is a change in the strategic calculus in Pakistan,” Gates said on ABC News' This Week with Christiane Amanpour.“They are more and more partnering with us and working with us and fighting these insurgents and 140,000 (Pakistani) soldiers (are) in northwestern Pakistan fighting some of the same insurgents we are.”“There's no question about it,” he said. “But I would say that, again, we walked out on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1989 and left them basically holding the bag. And there is always the fear that we will do that again. And I believe that's the reason there's a certain hedge.”“And so the Pakistanis going after any of these groups, I believe, overall, helps us in what we're trying to accomplish, both with respect to Afghanistan and with respect to Al-Qaeda.”

Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani

“We have had more attacks in Pakistan in the last two years than (in) any other country,” he said on CNN's “GPS” program.Now, the Taliban are very clear that we are their enemy. Why should we then lack clarity that they are our enemy?(paraphrased slightly)”He acknowledged that “Pakistan's history has given a lot of people reason for cynicism,” but echoed Gates' remarks, noting that Pakistanis fear the United States will abandon the region as it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“But let us be very clear,” he said. “Pakistan does not share or appreciate the Taliban's vision for Afghanistan or for Pakistan.
“We want to make sure that we enter the 21st century as a modern Muslim democratic nation, and we do not wish for Afghanistan anything we do not wish for Pakistan.”

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

Civilian casualties

So many civilian casualties unreported. What happened to transparency?

No because...

If they are unreported; the number should be impossible to determine. Transparency of what exactly?

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

Iran and Al Qaeda.

The wikileaks give some support for a belief that there is a link between Iran and Al-Qaeda. As an example:

Guardian Warlogs

Iran Intel financing TB and HIG

Organization(s) Involved: TALIBAN

On 30 January 2005, Iranian Intelligence agencies brought ten million Afghanis (approximately 212,800 USD) from Bir Jahn (CNA), IR to an unknown location on the border of IR and Farah Province, AF. The money was transferred to... four members of the Hezb-E-Islami, Gulbuddin (HIG) terrorist organization. The money was transported to an unknown location.

[[Afghanistan war logs: Iran smuggles money into Afghanistan to fund insurgents, says US report, 25/7/10, There are others showing that there may well be a reasonably large amount of cooperation in Afghanistan between Iran, Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda affiliated organisations. This shows that the divide between shiites and Sunni over theology may well have been bridged in order to cooperate against a common enemy in the U.S.[[Thomas Joscelyn, What the WikiLeaks Documents Say About Iran-al Qaeda, Weekly Standard, 27/7/10, From Iran's point of view it wants to keep the US as weak as possible in Afghanistan and one way to do this is to help Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Even if this is proved wrong we know how the war against Iraq was started and that has a lot to worries that Iraq had links to al Qaeda[[Linda Feldmann, The impact of Bush linking 9/11 and Iraq: American attitudes about a connection have changed: firming up the case for war, Christian Science Monitor, 14/3/03, and right wing press whipping up a frenzy about those links in order to increase support for war.[[Laurie Mylroie, Letting Saddam Be: A pre-and post-September 11 danger, National Review, 29/5/02,

No because...

Much of the evidence for this seems to come from evidence that has dubious provinence. Indeed all intelligence should be treated with caution. Vetting intelligence is largely based upon common sense and is not easy. All such evidence gets stored away in vast databases.[[Charles Homans, How Does the CIA Know If Its Intel Is Any Good?,, 26/7/10, If the intel had created a compelling case for war does anyone really think that George W. Bush's administration would not have published it either to invade or strike at Iran itself, or to allow it to give free reign to Israel or even simply to discredit and put pressure on Iran?

We have always known that Iran is a place where Iran is likely to meddle in order to try and hurt the USA, just as Iraq was. As both border Iran this should not be surprising. Obviously the USA has been taking Iran into account in Afghanistan and will continue to do so but some cooperation between enemies of the USA does not make a good case for war.[[Marc Lynch, WikiLeaks and the Iran-AQ Connection,, 27/7/10, Do we think that going to war would stop such cooperation? surely it would increase it rather than reduce it.

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

Public opinion.

The most likely important effect of the wikileaks will be on public opinion. With such a large number of documents they could be providing new stories for weeks keeping them in the news and at the same time showing Obama's Afghan war in a bad light. Afghanistan as become Obama's war so anything that shows it going badly is bad for Obama. We already know that in terms of bodycounts the U.S. military and its N.A.T.O. allies are winning. However as we also know from the war in Vietnam it is not the numbers that matter but rather it is public opinion and the public's perception of the war.

James Traub

the documents matter, for much the same reason that televised images of the Vietnam War or the civil rights struggle mattered. They will make many people feel in their bones what they merely knew, or perhaps didn't know at all, before. This, in turn, will darken -- indeed, already has darkened -- the debate. The revelations will not force President Obama's hand, but they will narrow his options.

[[James Traub, Documents of Mass Destruction, Foreign, 27/7/10,

Almost all the different reports show bad things happening because that is the nature of war. This means that whenever the wikileaks come up there is a chance that they will be turning someone from supporting the war to being against the war. Afghan police firing at Afghan army shows they cant manage themselves and even the security apparatus cant be trusted, so what are we doing there? More civilian casualties, so why are we killining innocents? Pakistan supporting the Taliban, If even our allies are betting against us then there is something seriously wrong! Iran aiding Al Qaeda, are we now fighting the wrong enemy? None of these provides a good news story for the Obama administration.

We obviously dont yet have much idea how the leaks will play with the public, will it be ignored or will it damage Obama and the Afghan campaign? An internet poll from the Wall Street Journal, not really the best source but it gives an indication: when asked What effect will the leak of classified documents have on public support for the war in Afghanistan? 7.8% (318) believe they will increase support, 33.7% (1380) believe it will have no effect and 58.5% (2391) believe the documents will undermine support.[[]]

No because...

Even the effect of the wikileaks on public opinion does not matter that much as it is just reinforcing an existing trend. Public opinion is already turning against the war. In Germany 58% want to bring NATO forces home to 4-% wanting to keep them until the situation stabilises. In the UK and USA the situation is much more balanced with 45% to 48% in the USA and 45% to 49% in the UK.[[]]

However even in the USA many opinion polls are now saying that the majority want to bring troops home. In a poll on the 9th July 2010 62% thought that the war in Afghanistan was going badly with 54% wanting a timetable for withdrawl.[[]]

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
Yes because...

Potential for rollback of U.S. Gov't. secrecy

Comments in recent news articles have compared this leak to the leak of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, where the Nixon administration was found to have classified a lot of mundane, day-to-day information about the conduct of the Vietnam War during the previous Johnson administration for no good reason (numerous rulings in federal court found the U.S. gov't. had no justification for declaring these papers secret). Similary, the Obama administration has carried on the policy started during the G.W. Bush years of classifying almost anything it can -- similarly for no good reason except that it might potentially be embarassing.

This leak provides an opportunity to push back the reflexive urge for secrecy -- if public opinion and/or congressional opinion forms in a way that acknowledges that the value of public access to information is more important than sparing the government some embarrassment. That swell of opinion toward openness could then translate into pressure to reverse executive branch agency policies and habits that push for ever more secrecy.

No because...
Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
No because...

Nothing new

Even though there are a lot of documents there is very little new in them. No big new revelations, everything is pretty much how we already believed it to be. It had already been reported that Pakistan was aiding the Taliban according to the New York Times in 2009

New York Times

Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

[[Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, Afghan Strikes by Taliban Get Pakistan Help, U.S. Aides Say, New York Times, 25/3/09, This also would have surprised no one even earlier as throughour most of the period when the US has been in Afghanistan Pakistan has been on good terms with the Taliban and unwilling to engage them in their border provences so essentially providing sanctury to insurgents and allowing them to move back and forth accross the border at will.[[Pamela Constable, Pakistan Reaches Peace Accord With Pro-Taliban Militias, Washington Post, 6/9/06, While they have since cracked down on the Pakistani Taliban they have never done so much to the Afghan Taliban.

Most commentators agree that these simply provide detail rather than anything new.

Blake Hounsell

I'd say that so far the documents confirm what we already know about the war: It's going badly; Pakistan is not the world's greatest ally and is probably playing a double game; coalition forces have been responsible for far too many civilian casualties; and the United States doesn't have very reliable intelligence in Afghanistan.

[[Blake Hounsell, The logs of war: Do the Wikileaks documents really tell us anything new?,, 25/7/10, Even the guardian one of the newspapers that lead with the leaks agrees.

Declan Walsh

But for all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated.

[[Declan Walsh, Afghanistan war logs: Clandestine aid for Taliban bears Pakistan's fingerprints, The Guardian, 25/7/10,

Yes because...

There being nothing new may not actually matter if it turns out to be a tipping point. Even great powers like the USA can only keep fighting wars that are going wrong for so long and at some point something will make the difference and change opinions from 'we will get out sometime' to 'lets get out as soon as possible'. It is quite possible that this is it.

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
No because...

Out of date and only tell us obvious things

Consider this from the Wikileaks site:

Wikileaks War Diary

The material shows that cover-ups start on the ground. When reporting their own activities US Units are inclined to classify civilian kills as insurgent kills, downplay the number of people killed or otherwise make excuses for themselves. The reports, when made about other US Military units are more likely to be truthful, but still down play criticism. Conversely, when reporting on the actions of non-US ISAF forces the reports tend to be frank or critical and when reporting on the Taliban or other rebel groups, bad behavior is described in comprehensive detail. The behavior of the Afghan Army and Afghan authorities are also frequently described.


This is hardly surprising.

From the Wikileaks introduction, this seem to be the only thing worth mentioning, other than the fact that they have the exact location of every death and wounding. Which they do go on about.

The best the Guardian[[]] can do is whine on about the fact that there are "without trial" black ops recorded. Again, hardly surprising.

All of the noteworthy elements of the these documents are simply descriptions of things we already knew:
For example,
People write things in their favour.
Armies downplay the number of civilians they kill when reporting to the press.
There are such things as 'black ops'.

We already knew these things and should have already been doing something about it. Suddenly having a few reports (because most of them are seriously dull, I can promise you) showing these things happening does not constitute something important.

Yes because...

Perhaps it is not surprising to some that "cover-ups start on the ground" at least to people who are cynical and are against the war in Afghanistan anyway. However it is not them who really matter in this. The war's main support today is on the right both in the US and in the UK so it is those people who matter most. In the US they are generally supportive of the troops and it may be damaging to find that they are not paragons of virtue.

Jamie Fly

Republicans on and off Capitol Hill have remained supportive of President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, even as casualties have mounted, and the president has lost much of his own base.

[[Jamie M. Fly, Why foreign policy still unites conservatives, Foreign Policy. 26/7/10, The American people generally support the republican view of the USA as a great power who can and will win in Afghanistan. But such revelations are damaging even if they dont lead to big inquiries.

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
No because...

No one cares about Wikileaks

Secrecy News, a blog by Stephen Aftergood

A telling comparison can be made between WikiLeaks’ publication of the Iraq Apache helicopter attack video last April and The New Yorker’s publication of the Abu Ghraib abuse photographs in an article by Seymour Hersh in May 2004. Both disclosures involved extremely graphic and disturbing images. Both involved unreleased or classified government records. And both generated a public sensation. But there the similarity ends. The Abu Ghraib photos prompted lawsuits, congressional hearings, courts martial, prison sentences, declassification initiatives, and at least indirectly a revision of U.S. policy on torture and interrogation. By contrast, the WikiLeaks video tendentiously packaged under the title “Collateral Murder” produced none of that– no investigation (other than a leak investigation), no congressional hearings, no lawsuits, no tightening of the rules of engagement. Just a mild scolding from the Secretary of Defense, and an avalanche of publicity for WikiLeaks.


Wikileaks has squandered the possible power it could have had by releasing completely unnecessary private information (about sorority rituals and Mason secrets, etc.) and generally annoying people.

Yes because...
Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?
No because...

In the past.

These documents are all about past events and so may well bear little relation to what is happening on the ground now. Since these documents were compiled Obama has begun a surge in Afghanistan and has replaced the commander in charge of conducting the war.

White House Press Secretry Robert Gibbs

let’s understand this -- when you talk about the way the war is going in Afghanistan, the documents purportedly cover from I think January of 2004 to December 2009... when the President came into office in 2009, he, in the first few months, ordered an increase in the number of out troops... and then, as you well know, conducted a fairly comprehensive and painstaking review of our policy, which resulted in December 1, 2009’s speech about a new direction in Afghanistan.

[[Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 26/7/2010, Essentially the information for the most part applies to how the war in Afghanistan was going during George W. Bush's administration rather than Obamas and by the time the period covered by the leaks stops Obama's Afghan policy was only just gearing up. Not just no news, it is old news too.

Yes because...

Old news does not mean that it is not still going on today. Gibbs in his press briefing was very reluctant to answer anything about whether these documents represented current trends as well.

White house press briefing

MR. GIBBS ...The point I’d make on the premise of your question, understand that the documents go through December of 2009. I don't know if you meant to conflate actions -- let’s just say that the documents --

Q Well, have the actions stopped? Do we know for sure that the Pakistani intelligence is no longer working --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, these documents --

Q -- with the Taliban?

MR. GIBBS: I think they're making progress, and again, I’d refer to you --

Q Making progress but it has not ended even after December 2009?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I would you point you to the hearing that was conducted just a month ago, less than a month ago, with General Petraeus where this was talked about.

Ed, nobody is here to declare “mission accomplished.”

[[Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 26/7/2010,

Are the Wikileaks on Afghanistan important?

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