Leaked Documents Offer Window Into Afghan War

Some 90,000 leaked U.S. military records posted online Sunday amount to a blow-by-blow account of six years of the Afghanistan war. The documents include unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings as well as covert operations against Taliban figures.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

DON GONYEA, host:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

More than 90,000 secret U.S. military reports from the frontlines in Afghanistan are online today for all the world to read. The documents were released by the group that calls itself Wikileaks, which specializes in exposing secrets of all kinds.

Wikileaks calls the collection an "Afghan War Diary," and the documents reflect a ground-level view of developments over the past six years.

And NPR's Tom Gjelten is here to guide us through these reports. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: Okay, let's start with what is in these reports posted on this site, Wikileaks, which people may not be familiar with.

GJELTEN: Right, Don. Well, Wikileaks, as you said, posts a wide variety of leaked material. They seem to have almost no filters of what they are willing to leak. These particular reports are field reports reflecting news from intelligence agents on the ground, reports from Afghan army sources, from informants - paid informants, unpaid informants - very much a ground's eye view of the war.

Wikileaks won't say where the reports came from, how they got them. They're clearly - these reports are clearly from inside the U.S. military and suspicion is on a low-level enlisted soldier, an Army specialist who was recently arrested in Iraq on charges of leaking classified material.

GONYEA: Okay, so this is a stack of 90,000 documents...

GJELTEN: A dump.

GONYEA: ...a virtual stack - a dump.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Well, so give us some highlights.

GJELTEN: Well, there are reports, for example, in here, Don, about that say the Taliban have been using portable anti-aircraft missiles, heat-seeking missiles against U.S. aircraft. That's never come out before. A lot of detail about U.S. military commando units, what they are doing conducting secret raids in Afghanistan, possibly even in Pakistan, as well. Detail about CIA military -paramilitary units and their operations.

The most sensational documents, Don, are intelligence reports about how the Pakistani government's own spy agency, the ISI, has allegedly been helping the Taliban forces who are attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan, even to the point of helping them plan suicide bombings.

Now, this in itself is not news. While the U.S. government has had a lot of nice words to say about Pakistan, we've also heard many complaints about precisely this issue. Now we have here a lot of the reporting that underlay those complaints. We've had the sanitized version before. This is kind of the raw, un-sanitized, very detailed version, the behind-the-scene story of what U.S. commanders were hearing on the ground, day after day, about the Pakistanis helping the Taliban.

GONYEA: So on that topic, is there an example that really leaps out that you can share?

GJELTEN: I think the most sensational ones are a variety of reports focusing on a retired Pakistani general by name of Hamid Gul who ran the Pakistani spy agency in the 1980s and helped Afghan Mujahedeen at that time. Apparently, he's still doing this. These reports suggest that Gul is now a kind of a key Pakistani ally of the Taliban. Lots of reports like that.

GONYEA: So a lot of the - go ahead. I'm sorry.

GJELTEN: Well, I was just going to say, Don, this is important, a couple of points here. One: 92,000 documents sound like a lot. It's actually a small fraction of the reports that the U.S. military would have received over this time. They're also very low-level reports, nothing top secret here. And intelligence reports are not facts. A lot of them turn out to be wrong. Some things to keep in mind here.

GONYEA: Anything in here contradicts information that we've been that we thought to be true?

GJELTEN: Well, the one thing that is a contradiction has to do with these heat-seeking missiles. The U.S. military has never revealed that its aircraft are vulnerable to this; that would be new.

GONYEA: How about reaction from the U.S. and Pakistani governments?

GJELTEN: The White House is furious. It's saying that the leak of these documents was irresponsible. There's a reason reports like this, Don, are kept secret: Because they complicate - we don't know if they're true or not, they're incomplete - they complicate relations with the Pakistan government, with the Afghan government.

And the White House is pointing out that Wikileaks is an anti-war organization. They point out that these documents were leaked to news organizations in Britain and in Germany, where there's a lot of opposition to the war in Afghanistan, as well as here in the United States, The New York Times.

GONYEA: NPR's Tom Gjelten, thank you, sir.

GJELTEN: You bet, Don.

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