Skip to content

In Korea, a model for Iraq

August 31, 2010

an op-ed by Paul D. Wolfowitz

NY Times, August 30, 2010

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, who traveled to Iraq this week to mark the formal end of United States combat operations there, has claimed that peace and stability there could be “one of the great achievements” of the Obama administration. Of course, the largest share of credit belongs to the brave men and women of the American military, who have sacrificed so much and persevered through so much difficulty. Credit also goes to the Iraqi Army and police forces who have fought bravely and increasingly well, and to Iraq’s people, who have borne a heavy burden. But it is good that President Obama and his administration also claim credit, because success in Iraq will need their support.

My hope is that the president understands that success in Iraq will be defined not by what we withdraw, but by what we leave behind. At a minimum, we need Iraq to be a stable country, at peace both within its borders and with its neighbors. And we should help Iraq to one day become a leader of political and economic progress in the Middle East.

The aftermath of another American war is instructive. Fifty-seven years ago, an armistice ended the fighting in Korea — another unpopular conflict, far bloodier than the Iraq war, although shorter. Civilian casualties were horrendous, and the United States and its allies suffered more than half a million military casualties. The South Korean Army took the heaviest losses, but the United States also paid a high price: 33,739 killed or missing in battle and 103,284 wounded.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, in part, on a promise to end the war. According to a poll taken in April 1953, three months before the armistice was signed, 55 percent of the American public thought the war had not been worth fighting, whereas only 36 percent thought that it had.

Yet when the war was over, the United States did not abandon South Korea. We had done so in 1949, when our post-World War II occupation of Korea ended, opening the door to North Korea’s invasion the following year. This time, instead, we kept a substantial military force in South Korea.

The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim. With all its failings, South Korea was nevertheless a haven of freedom compared with the bleak and brutal despotism of North Korea.

We also understood that stability on the Korean Peninsula was critical for the peace of an entire region — a region that involved Japan as well as the Soviet Union and China. Most important, abandoning South Korea would have risked squandering all that had been gained.

Although South Korea has assumed the principal responsibility for its own defense, there are still 28,500 American troops on the peninsula. Our continued commitment prevented another war and today South Korea is a remarkable economic success story. A series of democratic elections, starting in 1987, have made it a political success story as well.

Some similar considerations apply to Iraq today. First, Iraq occupies a key position in the Persian Gulf, a strategically important region of the world — a position that is all the more important because of the dangerous ambitions of Iran’s rulers.

Second, whatever the failings of Iraq’s democracy, it bears no comparison to the regime that other hostile elements would impose. With all its imperfections, Iraq today is more democratic than South Korea was at the end of the Korean War, and more democratic than any other country in the Arab Middle East (with the possible exception of Lebanon).

We have withdrawn so many of our troops and relinquished a combat role because Iraqi security forces have been able to take on most of the security burden. Their numbers have grown from about 320,000 in December 2006 to more than 600,000 at the end of last year; they are also becoming more capable.

Of course, numbers are only part of the story, and Iraqi security forces still need assistance from the American military. Not surprisingly, the enemy has increasingly focused its attacks on Iraqi soldiers and police officers as the United States withdraws, although Iraqi losses are still far below what they were earlier in the war. Since June 2003, about 10,000 Iraqi security forces have been killed, twice the total of the United States and the entire international coalition.

Even as our combat commitment ends, our commitment to supporting Iraq must continue. That means continued political support, including offering our help in resolving the current stalemate over forming a government. (It’s worth remembering that much of the difficulty the Iraqis are encountering arises from a Constitution and electoral system that the international community helped design. Moreover, this example of peaceful negotiations to create a government is something new in the Arab world.)

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

It is well worth celebrating the end of combat operations after seven years, and the homecoming of so many troops. But fully abandoning Iraq would damage the interests of the United States in the region and beyond. Maintaining a long-term commitment, albeit at greatly reduced cost and risk, is the best way to secure the gains that have been achieved with so much sacrifice.

Paul D. Wolfowitz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was the deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005.


Restrepo – the Afghan documentary

August 26, 2010

preview of the much praised Sebastian Junger documentary of FOB Restrepo and its men of 173rd Airborne.

The Road to Charikar – Where we are in Afghanistan

August 17, 2010

by JD Johannes

Bamiyan, Afghanistan

‘The Soviets wouldn’t come up here with less than a battalion,” says Tim Lynch, a retired Marine Corps officer driving us down the two-lane blacktop that crosses the Shomali Plain, one of the largest and most fertile agricultural regions in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great founded the ancient city of Bagram on this plain, which opens up just north of Kabul, widens through Parwan Province, and finally dead-ends at the Salang and Panjshir rivers. Centuries later, Afghanistan’s Communist government would choose the same locale for a major air base, which today hosts the U.S.-led Coalition’s logistics-and-transshipment hub, Bagram Airfield. The Macedonians, the Soviets, and now the Americans: All have found their way to the Shomali Plain.

“This area is primarily Tajik,” Lynch says. “The Tajiks fought the Soviets harder than the Pashtuns, but don’t seem to mind Americans that much.” There are pockets of Pashtuns, but the Tajik predominance makes the drive up the highway, through the plain, and over the ragged road through the mountains to Bamiyan relatively safe for three Americans and a Hazara interpreter/fixer. If a group of Soviet travelers had ventured up here in their day, the mujahedeen would have killed them within an hour. Once in the Hazarajat area, Westerners can mostly roam around freely. The greatest risk in Afghanistan, according to Lynch, is disease or illness. “The second-highest risk is car wreck,” he says, a fact you might pick up from watching him drive in the traditional Afghan style: like a maniac. “Way down on the list is the Taliban,” he says.

There are attacks on U.S. forces on the Shomali Plain and in the surrounding valleys, but they pale in contrast to the Soviet experience. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, there were nine separate major expeditions into the Panjshir Valley. On the seventh campaign, 15,000 Soviet troops and 5,000 Communist Afghan troops moved over the Shomali Plain in an attempt to take the valley, and at one point an entire Soviet division and Afghan corps were dedicated to clearing out mujahedeen here. They failed. By way of comparison, the U.S.-led Operation Anaconda, launched in March 2002 in Paktia Province, involved 1,700 helicopter-borne troops, 1,000 Afghan militiamen, and several smaller special-operations units. The recent Operation Moshtarak in Helmand Province included a mix of about 4,000 Coalition ground-combat troops and 4,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) troops, and is the only Coalition operation comparable in size to the various Soviet Panjshir expeditions.

For the Soviets and the mujahedeen, the Shomali Plain and the Panjshir Valley were what Sun Tzu termed “desperate ground” — terrain that must be defended or captured. It is certainly storied ground: “Panjshir” in the Dari language means “five lions,” a reference to the legend of five devout brothers who protected the valley from intruders.

In the war against the Soviets, a new lion emerged — Ahmed Shah Massoud. An ethnic Tajik and a sophisticated mujahedeen commander, Massoud was educated at Afghanistan’s national military academy and studied engineering at Kabul Polytechnic. He trained his fighters in the use of advanced weapons and developed a logistics pipeline from China. At the peak of his power, he may have led as many as 50,000 fighters, and his well-honed publicity machine ensured that he became known as the “Lion of the Panjshir.” After the Soviets were forced out, Massoud’s party dominated the short-lived mujahedeen government of Afghanistan. In 1994, Massoud and his army returned to their home field in the Shomali and Panjshir, fighting the Taliban to a draw until Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda shortly before 9/11.

There is no current equivalent to Massoud in the Shomali and Panjshir now. The Tajiks, with the exception of a few rent-a-fighters and day-labor Taliban, have no quarrel with the Coalition. Many of Massoud’s lieutenants have taken up positions in the current Afghan National Army, working side by side with U.S. forces.

One of them is Col. Zalmat Nbard, commander of the 1st Battalion, 111th Division, southwest of Kabul. Nbard was an effective enough fighter of Soviets that he was commissioned as a colonel by the interim mujahedeen government. He commanded Tajik fighters during the civil war and fought the Taliban until the U.S. invasion in 2001. He was trained in Massoud’s academies and rose through the ranks to become a commander. There is little doubt that he has more combat experience than all his NATO and U.S. advisers combined, and all agree that he is a seasoned leader of Afghans. That Nbard is on the side of the Coalition at all, rather than stirring up trouble in the neighborhood, is telling. The major fights in Afghanistan are in the south and east, the Pashtun areas, not in the northern Tajik ones.

Nbard, who grew up fighting first the Soviets and then the Taliban, is frustrated by the type of war he is being told to fight now. U.S. advisers try to get him to follow ANA doctrine, which is based on U.S. Army doctrine from the 1990s. His superiors at the ministry of defense often are officers from the former Communist regime, and they still fall back on Soviet tactics. His primary counterparts on the battlefield are Turks, whose government has issued rules of engagement that make them incredibly risk-averse.

His frustration shows through during a planning session for a routine patrol with two U.S. officers. They are in turn frustrated that Nbard had not made any plans following the prescribed five-paragraph order of the ANA, as well as by the fact that he does not know how to read a map. Nbard is upset with the mission his superiors have given him.

“It is a useless mission . . . it is a stupid mission . . . it is only good for getting soldiers killed,” Nbard says. The mission is a “presence patrol,” a drive through the Musahee district in the southwest of Kabul Province. A presence patrol is often described by calloused veterans as “driving around waiting to get blown up.” Nbard knows firsthand the uselessness of these types of operations; he spent years ambushing similar Soviet patrols in the 1980s.

In other words, the Coalition is using some of the same tactics that so dismally failed the Soviets, while the Taliban employs those that worked so well for the mujahedeen.

The former mujahedeen often chafe at the bureaucracy and lethargy of the Afghan National Army and the Coalition. “Just give me guns, trucks, ammo, and fuel, and I will defeat the Taliban!” Maj. Shane Gries, a member of the Validation Transition Team, cries in a pitch-perfect parody of Afghan bravado. “But it is not that simple when you start putting NATO elements in the mix.” And so Col. Zalmat Nbard, once a commander of mujahedeen and a loyal deputy to the Lion of the Panjshir, today dutifully follows orders and drives around waiting to get blown up.

But we’re not using all of the old Soviet tactics. For instance, the destroy-and-search mission is out. That practice was exactly what it sounds like: Aircraft would drop bombs on a village, then helicopter gunships would strafe it. Afterward, Soviet soldiers would search what was left of the smoldering village. Those free-gunning operations brought proportional retribution: In one case, an entire battalion of the Soviet 201st Motor Rifle Division was destroyed on the road between Gardez and Khost.

In nine years, about 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. In roughly the same time, the Coalition has lost 1,993.

The failed tactics of the Soviets are on full display in Lester Grau’s book The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Grau culled reports on Soviet actions from the Frunze, a Soviet general-staff college. The reports read like a chronicle of events that could have happened in 2008 rather than 1988 — the loop of Afghan history repeating itself with better firepower. The companion book to The Bear Went Over the Mountain, one told from the mujahedeen side, is Grau’s Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahedeen Fighters, written with Ali Ahmad Jalali.

In both books, the Shomali Plain and the road between Kabul and Charikar come up again and again. To take one example, the attack on Mumtaz in 1988, detailed from the mujahedeen side, is notable for the firepower they brought to bear on a brigade-size garrison of government troops. “Mujahideen armaments included one Saqar, one BM12, one 122mm howitzer, six 82mm mortars, eight 82mm recoilless rifles and approximately 40 RPG-7s,” according to the mujahedeen who spoke to the authors. “We also had some ZSU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns and some Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.”

The Sarqar and BM 12 are multiple-rocket launchers with a range of 8,000 meters. The howitzer and ZSU are so heavy that they are usually towed behind a truck.

The plan at Mumtaz was to block the Charikar–Kabul road from the north and south, then bombard the garrison with rockets and artillery for seven days before a 400-man ground assault force would move on it. The Communist government’s troops held out for only a few hours before making a breakout for Kabul, to the south.

By way of contrast, attacks by the Taliban on small U.S. outposts, like Combat Outpost Keating and Wanat in the eastern mountains near the Pakistan border, were fought with only mortars and RPGs. The fighting at Keating and Wanat was fierce, but the Taliban does not have nearly the firepower the mujahedeen employed. On the Shomali Plain, the only comparable attack on U.S. forces was in May 2010, when the Taliban mustered 30 fighters with rifles, RPGs, and suicide vests to make a charge at Bagram Airfield.

What is most striking in Bear and the scholarly Soviet-military writings about Afghanistan is what is missing: There is absolutely no evidence the Soviets seriously attempted population-centric counterinsurgency to win the passive support of the population, which is a key to understanding where the United States stands in Afghanistan. The WikiLeaks documents show that the vast majority of Coalition missions in Parwan are for meetings with Afghan-government officials and assessments for development projects. These discussions and assessments are textbook counterinsurgency.

In other words, the Coalition is using some of the same tactics that so dismally failed the Soviets, while the Taliban employs those that worked so well for the mujahedeen.

Soviet counterinsurgency did have economic, social, and political lines of effort — brutal ones: The Soviets succeeded in destroying the rural agricultural economy by razing crops, clear-cutting orchards in the Shomali Plain, and destroying irrigation systems. Their political line of effort was to exploit tribal and party rivalries among the mujahedeen. The social one was to create hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Pakistan while sending select urban youths to be educated and indoctrinated in the Soviet Union. There was a kind of logic to this version of counterinsurgency: If the greatest advantage of the insurgent is to hide in plain sight among the civilian population, then get rid of the civilians.

The Soviets put minimal effort into distinguishing civilians from combatants, and the Taliban was just as brutal, if not more so. Its campaign in the Shomali Plain was as medieval as its imposition of sharia, and at times amounted to no more than a bloody ethnic/sectarian cleansing, the murder of Uzbeks and Hazaras by the thousands. By contrast, Gen. Stanley McChrystal introduced highly restrictive rules of engagement in 2009 to minimize civilian casualties. The changes were controversial, accompanied by many anecdotal accounts of how tying the hands of U.S. forces was causing more of our troops to be killed or wounded in action.

Empirical evidence shows the restrictive ROE can protect Coalition troops. A recent analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “counterinsurgent-generated civilian casualties from a typical incident are responsible for six additional violent incidents in an average-sized district in the following six weeks.” The tribal code of honor requires badal — blood revenge — for the killing of a family or tribe member. If fewer Afghans are accidentally harmed, then there are fewer instances of the blood revenge being sought against Coalition troops.

The Soviet force that arrived in Afghanistan was an artillery army, with some tanks and mechanized infantry. Over the course of the 1980s, the Soviet 40th Army morphed into an air-assault and mechanized-maneuver force. The U.S. military of the late 1990s was heavy and maneuver-based. It has since grown into its counterinsurgency mission, but it still clings to too many conventional habits. The American way of counterinsurgency, as articulated in Field Manual 3-24, written in part by Gen. David Petraeus, is the exact opposite of the Soviet approach. We don’t destroy-and-search, we sit-and-talk, mostly with local tribal leaders. We have different ideas, and a different kind of army.

The Soviets in the 1980s to some degree had a less complicated fight than the one U.S. forces face now. During the Soviet occupation, the mujahedeen would actually come out and fight in the open, at times, in an attempt to hold land and lines. It had standing military units; the Taliban, on the other hand, operates in cells. And, as the study from the NBER shows, a significant portion of the attacks on Coalition forces are driven by revenge rather than by offensive strategy, meaning that the factors in play are more cultural than strictly military.

Perhaps nothing sums up the difference better than what I saw as I drove through the city of Charikar. It passed from Soviet to mujahedeen hands in the 1980s, and the battle between the Taliban and Massoud in the 1990s left it practically a ghost town, pockmarked by bullets and shrapnel. Today, Charikar hums with commerce, especially the downtown jewelry market, where gold chains gleam through the clean plate-glass windows. Four civilians in an old Land Cruiser, packing only pistols, could stop for diesel fuel on the outskirts of town without much worry. Which means Charikar is safer than Tijuana or Juarez — that’s not saying much, but it’s something.

— Mr. Johannes is a documentary filmmaker and former Marine. He has traveled through Iraq and Afghanistan, on his own and as an embedded reporter, since 2005.

the US-Pakistan relationship

July 30, 2010


courtesy of the Long War Journal.

Gen. Petraeus issues new COIN guidance to ISAF troops.

July 29, 2010

New COMISAF/ USFOR-A Commander Issues Counterinsurgency Guidance

08:13 GMT, July 29, 2010 |

“Learn and adapt.” – Petraeus issues counterinsurgency guidance.

On Tuesday, General David H. Petraeus informed the soldiers of the NATO ISAF troops and the US Forces-Afghanistan about how he expects them to contribute to turning around the unfavourable situation in Afghanistan. Considering Petraeus’ experiences and success in Iraq, one will quickly discover obvious lessons learned and Petraeus’ direct, flexible as well as unconventional approach – may be just what this unconventional operation in Afghanistan needs.

In an interview soon to be published at, combat journalist Michael Yon described General Petraeus as a brilliant individual with the ability to think artistically. The implementation of this guidance and the results of this process will show if artistic thinking can cut the Central Asian Gordian Knot, which war-torn Afghanistan has now been for decades.

This Counterinsurgency Guidance speaks for itself and doesn’t need any further comments from armchair strategists such as myself. Therefore, here it is as it was issued by General Petraeus on 27 July 2010:

FOR The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Civilians of NATO ISAR and US Forces-Afghanistan

SUBJECT: COMISAF’s Counterinsurgency Guidance

Team, here is my guidance for the conduct of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. In keeping with the admonition in this guidance to “learn and adapt,” I will update this document periodically in the months ahead. To help me do that, I welcome your feedback.

As I noted during my assumption of command remarks, it is a privilege to serve with each of you in this hugely important endeavour. And I appreciate all that you will do in helping to turn this guidance into reality on the ground.

•  Secure and serve the population. The decisive terrain is the human terrain. The people are the center of gravity. Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF prevail.

•  Live with the people. We can’t commute to the fight. Position joint bases and combat outposts as close to those we’re seeking to secure as is feasible. Decide on locations with input from our partners and local citizens and informed by intel and security assessments.

• Confront the culture of impunity. The Taliban are not the only enemy of the people. The people are also threatened by inadequate governance, corruption, and abuse of power – the Taliban’s best recruiters. President Karzai has committed to combat these threats. Work with our Afghan partners to help turn his words into reality and to protect the people from malign actors as well as from terrorists.

• Help Afghans build accountable governance. Afghanistan has a long history of representative self-government at all levels, from the village shura to the government in Kabul. Help the government and the people revive those traditions and develop checks and balanced to prevent abuses.

• Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Together with our Afghan partners, get your teeth into the insurgents and don’t let go. When the extremists fight, make them pay. Seek out and eliminate those who threaten the population. Don’t let them intimidate the innocent. Target the whole network, not just individuals.

• Fight hard and fight with discipline. Hunt the enemy aggressively, but use only the firepower needed to win a fight. We can’t win without fighting, but also cannot kill or capture our way to victory. Moreover, if we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate. That’s exactly what the Taliban want. Don’t fall into their trap.

• Identify and confront corrupt officials. President Karzai has said, “My government is committed to fighting corruption with all means possible.” Help the government achieve that aim. Make sure the people you work with work for the people. If they don’t, take action or you will appear to be part of the problem. Bring networks of malign actors to the attention of trusted Afghan partners and you chain of command. Act with your partners to confront, isolate, pressure, and defund align actors – and, where appropriate, refer malign actors to prosecution.

• Hold what we secure. Together with our Afghan partners, develop the plan and hold an area (and to build in it) before starting to clear or secure it. The people need to know that we will not abandon them. Prioritize population security over short-duration disruption operations. And when we begin to transition to Afghan lead, thin out rather than handing off and withdrawing.

• Foster lasting solutions. Help Afghans create good governance and enduring security. Avoid compromises with malign actors that achieve short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability. Think hard before pursuing initiatives that may not be sustainable in the long run. When it comes to projects, small is often beautiful.

• Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands. Institute “COIN contracting.” Pay close attention to the impact of your spending and understand who benefits from it. And remember, you are who you fund. How you spend is often more important than how much you spend.

• Be a good guest. Treat the Afghan people and their property with respect. Think about how you drive, how you patrol, how you relate to people, and how you help the community. View your actions through the eyes of the Afghans. Alienating Afghan civilians sows the seeds of our defeat.

• Build relationships, but not just with those who seek you out. Earn the people’s trust, talk to them, ask them questions, and learn about their lives. Inquire about social dynamics, frictions, local histories, and grievances. Hear what they say. Be aware of others in the room and how their presence may affect the answers you get. Cross-check information and make sure you have the full story. Avoid knee-jerk responses based on first impressions. Don’t be a pawn in someone else’s game. Spend time, listen and drink lots of tea.

• Walk. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your sunglasses. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.

• Act as one team. Work closely with our international and Afghan partners, civilian as well as military. Treat them as brothers-in-arms. Unity of effort and cooperation are not optional.

• Partner with the ANSF. Live, eat, train, plan, and operate together. Depend on one another. Hold each other accountable at all echelons down to trooper level. Coach your ANSF partners to excellence. Respect them and listen to them. Be a good role model.

• Promote local reintegration. Together with our Afghan partners, identify and separate the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables.” Identify and report obstacles to reintegration. Help you partners address grievances and strive ti make the reconcilables part of the local situation, even as you identify and kill, capture, drive out, or “turn” the irreconcilables.

• Be first with the truth. Beat the insurgents and malign actors to the headlines. Preempt rumors. Get accurate information to the chain of command, to Afghan leaders, to the people, and to the press as soon as possible. Integrity is critical to this fight. Avoid spinning, and “don’t put lipstick on pigs.” Acknowledge setbacks and failures, including civilian casualties, and then state how we’ll respond and what we’ve learned.

• Fight the information war aggressively. Challenge disinformation. Turn our enemies’ extremist ideologies, oppressive practices, and indiscriminate violence against them. Hand their barbaric actions like millstones around their necks.

• Manage expectations. Avoid premature declarations of success. Note what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. Strive to under-promise and over-deliver.

• Live our values. Stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies. We are engaged in a tough endeavor. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we must not give in to dark impulses or tolerate unacceptable actions by others.

• Maintain continuity through unit transitions. From day one, start building the information you’ll provide to your successors. Share information and understanding in the months before transitions. Strive to maintain operational tempo and local relationships throughout transitions to avoid giving insurgents and malign actors a rest.

• Empower subordinates. Resource to enable decentralized action. Push assets and authorities down to those who most need them and can actually use them. Flatten reporting chains (while maintaining hierarchical decision chains). Remember that it is those at tactical levels – the so-called “strategic sergeants” and “strategic captains” – who turn bit ideas in counterinsurgency operations into reality on the ground.

• Win the battle of wits. Learn and adapt more quickly than the enemy. Be cunning. Outsmart the insurgents. Share best practices and lessons learned. Create and exploit opportunities.

• Exercise initiative. In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what the orders should have been and execute them aggressively.

It is, again, a privilege to serve with you in Afghanistan.

David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army
Commander, International Security Assistance Force/
United States Forces-Afghanistan

Andrew Exum on the WikiLeaks documents

July 28, 2010

This pretty much sums up my feelings regarding this issue. Political activism masquerading as ‘journalism’, while endangering the lives of allied servicemen.

from NY Times, July 26, 2010

Many experts on the war, both in the military and the press, have long been struggling to come to grips with the conflict’s complexity and nuances. What is the public going to make of this haphazard cache of documents, many written during combat by officers with little sense of how their observations fit into the fuller scope of the war?

I myself first went to Afghanistan as a young Army officer in 2002 and returned two years later after having led a small special operations unit — what Mr. Assange calls an “assassination squad.” (I also worked briefly as a civilian adviser to General McChrystal last year.) I can confirm that the situation in Afghanistan is complex, and defies any attempt to graft it onto easy-to-discern lessons or policy conclusions. Yet the release of the documents has led to a stampede of commentators and politicians doing exactly that. It’s all too easy for them to find field reports to reaffirm their preconceived opinions about the war.

War document bombshell.

July 26, 2010

Classified Documents point to collaboration between Taliban groups and Pakistani ISI

from Wired

Turns out “Collateral Murder” was just a warm-up. WikiLeaks just published a trove of over 90,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.

WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse – taken, it would appear, from U.S. Central Command’s CIDNE data warehouse — has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war. Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the U.S.’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In its granular, behind-the-scene details about the war, this has the potential to be Afghanistan’s answer to the Pentagon Papers. Except in 2010, it comes as a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.

Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.