Monday 26 July 2010

Little new in Wikileaks Afghan War Diary docs

As a fascinating insight into the way a modern army operates, the 92,000 War Diary documents released yesterday by Wikileaks are of interest. (Actually, that should be 77,000 documents, as Wikileaks have decided to censor some of the material on the grounds of national security.) But there is little here that is new.
Once you get to understand the weird military form of communication, there are some fascinating details. Thus we find out that military statistics on IED attacks are not always accurate. On the 29th April 2005, for example, a report from the South of Afghanistan records an IED explosion 12kms west of Camp Echo. A US soldier received injuries, said the report, and was being casevaced to Kandahar.
Under remarks, however, a follow-up note says "Initial report was not accurate. Cause of injury was M60D negligent discharge, which wounded two soldiers, neither seriously." In fact one US soldier had been shot in the arse by another and the bullet had entered and exited his left buttock before going on to wound a comrade slightly in the arm. Thus do we enter the fog of war.
It is impossible to read anything more that a small percentage of these reports in such a short time, but if we look at the Guardian's coverage - where reporters had several weeks to dredge and trawl these documents for juicy details, we find that their team of around a dozen journalists have turned up precious little of much quality or relevance.
If you think I am being a little harsh, ask yourself: is anyone going to lose their job over these leaks? Is US army policy going to change? Do you now know much that you did not know before, even if you may not have known so much detail?
Were we all not aware that Coalition Special Forces have been engaged in assassinating Taliban leaders for some considerable time? What do you think 500 SAS soldiers and hundreds more US Special Forces are doing in Afghanistan?
Did we not know that the US forces were using drones piloted by contractors in Nevada to kill Taliban fighters?
Is it new to reveal that the Taliban has massively increased its use of IEDs, with a consequent rise in civilian casualties?
Have we not all grown tired of hearing about the fact that the intelligence agency of our major ally in the region - Pakistan - is supporting our enemy, the Taliban?
The possibly new information is frustratingly inconclusive. Thus there are 'reports' that the Iranians are supplying equipment to the Taliban, but little in the way of proof. There are 'reports' that the Taliban may be using advanced anti-aircraft missiles, but no clear evidence. In fact, the US military denied at least one of the missile attack reports today.
President Karzai's spokesman said he was "shocked" at the scale of the leaks published yesterday, which cover the period from 2004 to the end of 2009, but thought that "most of this is not new". Even Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks said there was no "overarching revelation" to come out of the cache of documents.
"The real story of this material is that it's war - it's one damn thing after another," he told a London press conference today. "It is the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces, the maimed people. Search for the word 'amputation' in this material, or 'amputee', and there are dozens and dozens of references." (Actually I could not find a way to search the documents on the Wikileaks site using self-generated search terms. The only way to search them is by browsing by type, category, region, affialiation, date or severity.)
Assange compared the impact of the released material to the opening of the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi - which could be a bit of an exaggeration.
As military leaks go, this was pretty low quality. The last Wikileaks report on Afghanistan - a leaked CIA report on shaping public opinion in Europe, was more dramatic in its content than almost all these reports.

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