The leaking of more than 91,000 US military intelligence files on the war in Afghanistan via the whistleblower website Wikileaks has, in all, told us some of what was known, much of what was suspected and all of which was feared by citizens of the states that are contributing to the war.
What might have been hoped for in yesterday’s newspapers was at least an outline of the leaks’ key findings, as reported internationally. This is of particular relevance given the Australia is a party to the war and sustains – and causes -- casualties.
Some of the key elements of the Afghanistan Wikileaks include that, at more than 91,000 documents, it vastly overshadows the 1971 Pentagon papers (a little over 4000 documents) and provides a near complete synopsis of how the war has been conducted between 2004 and the end of last year.
The particular relevance of the documents is they beg the question not just of how the war in Afghanistan is being pursued but why Coalition forces are there at all. This is not about "stopping Islamist/al-Qaeda terrorism", which has long since shifted to numerous other countries. It is a war of national resistance against an invading coalition, supported by Pakistan’s military Inter-Service Intelligence agency in the east and Iran’s Republican Guards in the west.
According to Wikileaks boss Julian Assange: "The war is mediated by Pakistan." It is also engaging in border clashes with the Afghan national army, their putative allies. Beyond Pakistan’s two-faced approach to the war, Afghani soldiers fight with Afghani police. So much for "training", which now remains the sole reason Australian forces are in Afghanistan.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are training, arming and equipping Taliban fighters. Equipment supplied includes parts for and complete "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs), which are reported to have become bigger and more deadly, accounting for more than half of all coalition force casualties.
In the 1990s and following the Cold War, it was assumed that new military technology would supersede conventional war-fighting methods, effectively producing casualty-free wars. Afghanistan has shown this theory to be wrong. While computer game technologies are useful against conventional armies, they have limited application in asymmetric warfare.
Casualty rates among civilians in the Afghanistan war are, consequently, much higher than reported. They are treated with a casualness that borders on being "war crimes".
Beyond civilians, US friendly fire kills Afghanistan forces, Afghanistan forces fire kills US and others, each of the coalition partners kill each other and Afghanis. Everyone appears to be shooting at everyone else.
Following Operation Phoenix in the Vietnam War, assassination is again a preferred method of removing enemy figures, with Task Force 373 among others having the specific job of eliminating high values enemy targets. But assassination works both ways and the Taliban is reported to also use assassination, including poisoning attempts on President Hamid Karzai.
Yet Karzai lives on, as does his reported high level of corruption and that of his senior administrators, which is the primary purpose of engagement between senior Afghanistan government officials and international donors.
So, not only is Karzai and Co. deeply corrupt and presiding over an incompetent and bitterly divided security force, his enemy is supported by Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan and Iran. Karzai’s answer to this is to try to bring elements of the Taliban back into the government. All of this raises the question of what is are the Coalition forces fighting for?
The war in Afghanistan is not about denying terrorism a safe haven, given that has spread far and wide. Osama bin Laden is almost certainly not in or probably not even near Afghanistan.
The Coalition went in to Afghanistan without a clear plan and now has no idea what victory looks like or how to get out. There is at least now a timeline, based on vague guarantees that the Afghanistan national forces will be in a position to assume responsibility for fighting the Taliban by 2014.
In all, the Afghanistan Wikileaks paint a bleak picture of confusion, failure and a war more complex and more unwinnable than even most of its critics have credited.
So, has journalism gone one step too far in releasing information, which the US government claims could endanger lives? Interestingly, Assange has held back some 15,000 documents on the grounds they might do just that.
What the US government response is really about is embarrassment, mostly over being exposed for lying about the progress of the war and not knowing quite how to extricate itself. The leaks will "give comfort to the enemy", just as the more public 2014 timeline has. Will it reduce Coalition morale? The soldiers know what is happening -- they don’t need leaked documents to tell them that.
And then there is the not inconsequential matter, in a democracy, of transparency and accountability. It is interesting, then, that having committed themselves to continued involvement in Afghanistan, that the content of the Wikileaks has been so studiously avoided by both the aspirants for the prime ministership.
The bomb has been dropped here: http://wardiary.wikileaks.org/?source=cmailer
The reverberations will continue.