What Leaked Afghan Reports Do And Don't Tell Us The more than 90,000 leaked secret Afghan reports underscore the massive challenges there. But analysts warn caution in assessing the raw and uncorroborated data, and say the most significant news may be the Taliban's possible access to shoulder-fired, heat-seeking, anti-aircraft missiles.
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What Leaked Afghan Reports Do And Don't Tell Us

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What Leaked Afghan Reports Do And Don't Tell Us


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And we're learning more today about a massive leak of intelligence reports on the war in Afghanistan, some 90,000 documents published yesterday by the group WikiLeaks. The secret documents, which date from 2004 to 2009, describe the daunting issues confronting U.S. forces. In a moment we'll hear reaction from Afghanistan.

But first, NPR's Tom Gjelten has more on what the documents tell us and what they don't.

TOM GJELTEN: The documents were clearly provided to WikiLeaks by someone in the U.S. military. Thousands of raw intelligence reports from collectors in the field, observations from U.S. troops on patrol, so-called after action reports and accounts from informants. No analysis, no editing, just raw material.

Retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor served as executive officer to General David Petraeus in Iraq, where he saw a mountain of reports like these.

Retired Colonel PETER MANSOOR (U.S. Army): They would be fed into the operations and intelligence fusion centers where they would be digested.

GJELTEN: On rare occasions, such reports would be seen by a top commander.

Ret. Col. PETER MANSOOR: Someone at a very high level would have access to everything that's been collected in the war effort if they're willing to spend the time to wade through that mass of data.

GJELTEN: One reason few commanders bother is they can never be confident of the accuracy of reports like these. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautions that the secret documents released by WikiLeaks should be put in this context.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): The mere fact that something is classified doesn't mean that it doesn't include rumors, unverified reports, things written in the heat of action.

GJELTEN: What these documents do provide is a soldier's eye view of the Afghanistan war. The threat reports that come in daily about the Taliban. Accounts of corruption. Most alarmingly, accounts of how Pakistan's intelligence service has provided advice to Taliban commanders, even to the point of helping them plan suicide attacks.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today was forced to remind reporters that the administration has already publicly complained to Pakistan about its alleged support for the Taliban.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): I am not going to stand here on July the 26th and tell you that all is well. I will tell you that we have made progress in moving this relationship forward, in having the Pakistanis address the issue of safe havens, the issue of extremists operating in that country.

GJELTEN: White House officials point out that the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is known for his opposition to the war in Afghanistan. In a press conference in London today, Assange even suggested the documents he published may show that U.S. forces in Afghanistan have committed war crimes.

Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Founder, WikiLeaks): It is up to a court to decide, clearly, whether something is in the end a crime. That said, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material.

GJELTEN: He cited a report of a U.S. commando raid that left women and children dead. But U.S. officials scoff at the charge. The biggest news here may be a report the Taliban shot down a U.S. military helicopter with a portable heat-seeking missile. U.S. officials have never acknowledged that. The most likely source would be U.S. stinger missiles left over from those provided 25 years ago to Afghan forces fighting Soviet troops.

But only a few hundred are unaccounted for and experts say they probably no longer work. Anthony Cordesman says it's possible the Taliban have recently received some Chinese or Russian missiles, but he's doubtful.

Mr. CORDESMAN: We don't have any evidence of those systems being transferred and none is in these reports.

GJELTEN: Still, the leaked reports cannot help the Obama administration make its case that the war in Afghanistan is winnable. There's just too much evidence here of how often U.S. intelligence officers are discouraged by what they see and hear.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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