Turns out “Collateral Murder” was just a warmup. WikiLeaks just published a trove of 77,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents — out of over 90,000 it obtained — that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.
WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse taken, it would appear, from U.S. Central Command’s CIDNE data warehouse — has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war.
Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the United States’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In its granular, behind-the-scene details about the war, this has the potential to be Afghanistan’s answer to the Pentagon Papers. Except in 2010, it comes as a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.
Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.
But as the early-viewing New York Times reports, WikiLeaks presents a new depth of detail about how the U.S. military has seen, for six years, the depths of ISI facilitation of the Afghan insurgency. For instance: a three-star Pakistani general active during the ’80s-era U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi sponsorship of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Hamid Gul, allegedly met with insurgent leaders in South Waziristan in January 2009 to plot vengeance for the drone-inflicted death of an al-Qaeda operative. (Gul called it “absolute nonsense” to the Times reporters.)
Other reports, stretching back to 2004, offer chilling, granular detail about the Taliban’s return to potency after the U.S. and Afghan militias routed the religious-based movement in 2001. Some of them, as the Times notes, cast serious doubt on official U.S. and NATO accounts of how insurgents prosecute the war. Apparently, the insurgents have used “heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft,” eerily reminiscent of the famous Stinger missiles that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided to the mujahedeen to down Soviet helicopters. One such missile downed a Chinook over Helmand in May 2007.
Typically, NATO accounts of copter downings are vague — and I’ve never seen one that cited the Taliban’s use of a guided missile. This clearly isn’t just Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop anymore. And someone is selling the insurgents these missiles, after all. That someone just might be slated to receive $7.5 billion of U.S. aid over the next five years.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that the documents released so far are U.S. military documents, not ISI documents, so they don’t quite rise to smoking-gun level.
Not that that’s so necessary. The ISI’s quasi-sponsorship of the Afghan insurgency is pretty much an open secret. Most Washington analysts take it for granted that at least some aspects of the Pakistani security apparatus retain ties to the Taliban and affiliated extremist groups as an insurance policy for controlling events inside Afghanistan. That’s why some thought it was a positive sign in February when the Pakistanis captured Mullah Baradar, a senior Afghan Taliban leader — including (cough) too-credulous journalists.
WikiLeaks has freaked out the White House, though, by clearly raising questions about whether Pakistani aid to the Afghan insurgency is far deeper than typically acknowledged — something that would raise additional questions about whether the Obama administration’s strategy of hugging Pakistan into severing those ties is viable. Retired Marine General Jim Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, e-mailed reporters a long statement denouncing the leaks and pledging continued support for Pakistan.
“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,” Jones said in a statement. “Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents — the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. 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.” So much for a shift in course.
Is there a silver lining to Pakistan’s relationship with the insurgents? On the one hand, it’s possible that the extent of those ties might amount to leverage over the insurgents to cut a deal with Hamid Karzai’s government to end the war. But there was a lot of talk about that when Baradar was captured, and none of it has panned out. And in the meantime, the first batch of expanded U.S. aid to Pakistan — $500 million worth — arrived on July 18. Who knows how much of that money will end up in the Afghan insurgents’ pockets.
We’ll have additional reports on this as we go through the trove, as will our sister blog, Threat Level. There’s stuff in here about the use of drones, the deadly Kunduz airstrike last year and much, much more. In the meantime, tell us what you find in the WikiLeaks trove, either by leaving a note in the comments, or by dropping us a line. Either way, include the document number so we can keep track of it all.