Three Different Takes on the Leaked “War Logs”
Three different ways they're viewing the leaked war logs across the Pond.
I’ve run across three different takes on the classified documents posted on WikiLeaks and reported on extensively by The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel that I thought you might be interested in. First, Simon Tisdall writes in The Guardian:
The war logs, an official accounting of murderous missions, tragic incompetence and abject failure from 2004-2009, put factual flesh on the bare bones of these negative perceptions. Their publication may further undermine public support just as the campaign supposedly reaches a “critical” juncture following June’s record casualties and the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal.
The White House’s defence – that this serial bungling occurred on George Bush’s watch – appears problematic. Since Barack Obama concluded a policy review last December and decided on a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops, overall levels of violence have risen further while confusion about counterinsurgency strategy and the exit timetable has deepened.
“Obama has had several opportunities to reassess US goals and interests and in each instance he has chosen to escalate,” said Richard Haass, a former senior Bush administration official and president of the council on foreign relations. “Today the counterinsurgency strategy that demanded all those troops is clearly not working.” Afghanistan was now Obama’s war, Haass said, and he was losing it. “It’s time to scale down our ambitions and reduce and redirect what we do.”
Con Coughlin, writing in The Telegraph, demurs:
I welcome publication of these documents not because they show that the war is unwinnable, but because they provide a welcome justification for the new counter-insurgency strategy that was devised by former U.S. General Stanley McChrystal at the end of last year to win the war.
The documents leaked to Wikileaks relate to the period between 2004 and 2009, when the civilian casualty rate was reaching alarming proportions and Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the Taliban/al-Qaeda terrorist infrastructure was very much in question.
But a great deal has changed in Afghanistan since those uncertain times, and we should all take heart from the fact that we have learnt the lessons of the warnings contained in the leaked documents. Pakistan is now fulfilling the role of a genuine ally of the West, and has lost considerable more troops fighting the Taliban than Nato troops. One of the founding principles of the McChrystal doctrine, meanwhile, is for Nato forces to take every care to avoid civilian casualties, even if it means putting the lives of their own troops at risk.
The commentary in Spiegel Online is especially interesting. For example, there’s this about the role of foreign fighters in the conflict:
While the Afghans were still hesitant to join the new conflict between the West and the Islamists in 2006, foreign fighters — Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Chinese Uighurs — played a key role from the start. They were ideological hardliners with close ties to al-Qaida, and they had a wealth of experience in the use of bomb attacks and suicide bombings, which were largely unknown in Afghanistan until then. In this way, the deadly techniques that had been used in the Iraq war were transferred to Afghanistan.
The first report of the notorious foreign fighters surfacing in northern Afghanistan was documented in the war logs on July 15, 2005. According to the entry, five Chechens arrived in the city of Kunduz to deliver modern weapons to a Taliban commander and attack the United Nations office there. The attack that was supposedly planned did not take place, but the transfer of technical know-how and new weapons systems to the Taliban described in the document would later contribute to the Germans’ plight in Kunduz.
I found several things interesting in that particular snippet. First, it illustrates how foreign fighters can function as a force multiplier for local jihadists. Second, it casts some doubt over Leon Panetta’s recents comments on the very small number of Al Qaeda actually in Afghanistan at the present. I wonder how he’s defining Al Qaeda? Does he mean particular identified individuals or does he mean foreign fighters aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan? The first definition is probably far too narrow to cast meaningful light on the state of the conflict in Afghanistan. The second is almost certainly far too broad.
The second snippet I thought I’d bring to your attention is this one on the role of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan:
A comparison between the German government’s reports on Afghanistan to the federal parliament with the events described in the American war logs quickly reveals the extent to which important information is withheld from the German public. Government officials in Berlin keep their lips sealed when it comes to incidents in the region where Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed if they do not directly affect the German troops. But these incidents paint a more accurate picture of the real situation in northern Afghanistan and the kinds of threats the German troops there might face.
Countless reports in the war logs describe how the Afghan police and army in the north are bitterly fighting an enemy that is constantly advancing. In these clashes, German soldiers usually serve, at most, as advisors or medics tending to the wounded in field hospitals.
Day after day, police checkpoints are attacked or come under fire, patrols are targeted in deadly ambushes and roadside bombs explode. The number of Afghan security forces wounded or killed exceeds the German casualty count by far. It demonstrates that Afghanistan’s armed forces are still a long way from being able to pacify the country, and that Afghanistan is in fact perilously close to the brink of a new civil war.
The numbers also illustrate something else as well: How little the Germans have achieved.
Whether the revelations such as they are in the war logs are seen as more inflammatory in the United States or among our NATO allies is an open question. Polls in the United Kingdom and Germany show even less popular support for continuing the conflict in Afghanistan than there is here, where the number of Americans with a favorable impression of the war in Afghanistan has fallen below 50%.
My own views on the leaks is fairly straightforward:
- The perpetrator of the leaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
- They don’t tell me anything I didn’t know (or suspect) already.
- I find that they completely support the view I’ve had since 2001—that we accomplished what could have been reasonably expected to be accomplished in 2001 and that our ability to accomplish a great deal more with a force that could be supported logistically in a timeframe and at a cost that would be accepted by the American people is very dubious, indeed.