Assessing WikiLeaks's Raw Data

>".... reported that while conducting a NFO patrol, FF observed 2 x PAX on motorbike with POSS long barrelled weapons on the back of the bike. FF sniper engaged with 1 x sniper round resulting in the bike going down and the 2 x PAX coming to bridgehead location. FF confirmed the POSS long barrelled weapon was a footpump. FF spoke to the PAX and they were happy to carry on. "


You can read harrowing summaries of the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diaries from the New York Times, the Guardian,  and elsewhere.  The Guardian contends that the massive leak portrays the "real war" in Afghanistan as never before revealed, but that's not quite accurate. Many of the main narrative streams -- the sanctuaries found in Pakistan, the collusion between elements of the ISI and the Taliban, civilian causalities (at least 144 separate incidents are recounted here)  and subsequent cover-ups -- are part of the main narrative of the war.

    - Governor Khapalwak has had no success yet in reaching President Karzai (due to the Presidents busy schedule today) but expects to reach him within the hour (PoA reached later in the afternoon ~ 1400Z)

    - The Governor conducted a Shura this morning, in attendance were locals from both the Yahya Yosof Khail & Khail Districts

    -- He pressed the Talking Points given to him and added a few of his own that followed in line with our current story

    - The atmospherics of the local populous is that they are in shock, but understand it was caused ultimately by the presence of hoodlums


WIkiLeaks has given journalists and researchers a road map to begin tracking Afghan detainees and the activities of special forces units.

HUMINT reported that 4 vehicles of jems were passed from the former Dow Ab ANP chief to LTC Shukur for safe passage through the Nurgaram District

0535Z: OGA RECEVIED INTEL VIA ICOM THAT THERE IS FOUR MORE ROCKETS READY BUT THAT THEY ARE GOING TO CALL OF THE ATTACK AND WAIT UNTIL ANOTHER DAY

3 Geronimo reported that 15x INS set up and Illegal checkpoint and took money from Jungle truck drivers on RTE Jeep. They were first observed by OGA OP's North of FOB Orgun

Three representatives from the Attorney Generals office are in Ghazni to meet with Governor Patan regarding alleged illegal land transactions that he directed during his tenure as Khowst Governor.  This delegation is telling him that he illegally transferred land.  Governors position is as follows:  While serving as Khowst Governor, he was verbally authorized by President Karzai to provide 250 plots of land to former HiG/TB who PTSd.  Governor claims that OGA asked him to do this as well and paid for wells to be installed on some of these plots

There is a reference to a CIA paramilitary operative shooting a
blind woman from 30 yards, something that was duly reported back to headquarters. There are also references to "WIA" OGA paramilitaries, a side of the war we don't ever see as well.

WikiLeaks reveals limited details about the HIMARS system, a truck-mounted rocket system. Its existence is unclassified; its deployment and use by special forces in Afghanistan is classified SECRET because its relative portability means that it can be hidden in a convoy.

The task forces themselves -- well, there's TF 373, the Joint Special Operations Command task force for Afghanistan, which has since morphed into something else. The structure is different today. There are, however, references to the activities of Task Force 2-2, a multi-element special operations element that has -- and I emphasize has -- the authority to basically self-task, to take bad guys off of the JPEL list (the joint prioritized effects list) and decide whether to capture or kill them based on the situation at hand.

There are several incidents in which 2-2 and other 373 elements killed civilians and saw those killings covered up or obscured in official press releases.

I found just a couple of references to highly classified units whose existence are classified TOP SECRET or higher, including the code name for an advanced collection cell. There's no need to go into detail here, as the cables do not implicate these units in anything nefarious.

There is very little information about signals intelligence imagery intelligence or geospatial intelligence capabilities. There are references to an intelligence database called "PROPHET."

When the U.S. injures innocents, soldiers go out of their to way to tend to them. It's important that that be said, but it will be obscured in the coming days. ISAF also treated Afghans injured during the course of their daily lives.

    :  13 YEAR OLD LN MALE, OPEN FRACTURE OF HUMUROUS LOSS OF BONE AND MUSCLE, DOUBLE OPEN FRACTURE OF RADIUS.  BP:10.5/6.9 HR:117 REPSERITORY 33PM.  WAS CONCIOUS BUT SLEEPING DUE TO ANSTISIA, NO HEMMORAGE.  TORNICUT IN PLACE BECAUSE OF UNSTABLE FRACTURE.  KETALAR GIVEN.  INFUSION OF ANTIBIOTICS.  UNK BLOOD TYPE.  ACCOMPINIED BY FATHER, HIDE NEG.  PATIENT NAME IS AWAZ SORAB AND FATHER IS NORE ISMAEL. INJURIES WERE CAUSE BY A FARM MACHINE

It's also clear that U.S. commanders went to great lengths at times to avoid offending the sensibilities of locals:

    HHT/8-1 CAV conducted a health and welfare search with a dog team on FOB Costell on the morning of 16 DEC 09. Previous H & W's had turned up drugs within the ABP living quarters and the ASG guard quarters so these searches are done periodically. The searches are supervised by either the HHT CDR or 1SG. They are also done with the ABP commander present as well as the ASG contractor and senior ASG leader. Following searches of the quarters, the dog team was ordered to conduct a search of the mosque which is on the backside of the JBCC facility. The dog handler was a SGT, Air Force, female who then conducted the search lasting no more than five minutes. Nothing was found and the search was concluded. Following the search, the ABP, ASG and Afghan interpreters became very angry that a female dog team had entered the mosque. The Task Force CDR has been conducting numerous meetings with the JBCC and Task Force interpreters, the ASG, and the ABP (including COL Razzig) throughout the day in order to apologize for the mistake and reaffirm that this will not happen again. In addition, the Task Force purchased a cow to sacrifice in order to purify the mosque. At this point, the situation is contained to the FOB. We are continuing to engage the ABP leadership to defuse the situation as well. The Task Force staff and CA personnel are discussing potential actions we may take in the event news of the incident spreads outside the FOB to Spin Boldak, Wesh and other outlying villages. Follow-up Summary: At 17 1900 DEC 09, the Task Force CDR met with representatives of the ANA, ABP, ANP, PAKMIL and ASG guard force to discuss the incident. During the meeting the task Force CDR reiterated that the act was regrettable and that this type of behavior was not acceptable for members of the U.S. military. During the meeting, the TF CDR apologized for the incident and assured the members of the meeting that this type of incident would not happen again. Additionally, the unit is taking steps to make restitution for the incident, to include small improvements to the mosque and the rearrangement of an ASG guard member's schedule in order for him to lead prayers at the mosque during the day time. Additionally, the U.S. service member involved in the incident is leaving the FOB in the morning (18 DEC); this has been articulated to the meeting members as well. The Task Force CDR is also in the process of conducting a Commander's Inquiry IAW AR 15-6 to determine the cause of the incident in order to take the appropriate disciplinary actions. Additionally, all Soldiers of the unit will be retrained NLT 20 DEC 09 on cultural awareness: respect and dignity for the local populace, local their customs and beliefs, and acceptable actions involving in and around a mosque

One phrase that appears quite frequently is "blind eye," as in, locals are complaining that everyone is turning a "blind eye" to the obvious whether it be "a number of ex-muj commanders meeting with the HIG within the Parwan Province [that] are spreading anti-coalition/IRoA sentiments within the public in an attempt to discredit and destabilize the local governance." Or:

The provincial governance is weak and does not interact with the public regularly.  If they continue to turn a blind eye to the public, there will be a significant increase in enemy activity in the Province and a prominent civil uprising.  All these elements coupled together with greatly degrade the security around BAF.   

There are also detailed reports from provisional reconstruction teams, like this one:

    The general atmosphere was receptive.  The village elder lives in Mangretay.  They are part of the Sjedullah tribe.  The only concerns of theirs were the lack of food.   No problems with security or our presence.  The children were scared of us due to our large vehicles and all the gear we wear.  They seemed to warm up to us as the meeting went along.  The villagers also stated a problem with getting water for their fields.

    The second village we visited was Wechan Kackey.  This was the first time soldiers had stopped in this village for almost a year.  This village was very receptive to our presence.  Their only concerns were for a flood wall for the rainy season.  Their fields are in low ground surrounded by hills.  All rain pools in the fields and destroys them.  They are part of the Badakhal tribe.  This town had a lot of medical problems.  We noticed a few children with bad cases of leishmaniasis.  One other child is having blindness in his right eye due to being hit with a rock.  One other villager has a crippled leg where he cannot walk.  We told them that there is an aid station at the district center and they can go there for help.  They also stated they need a school.  They have one but it is damaged and it needs repaired.

    The third village we visited was Maraw Khot.  The elder there spoke with us.  He wasnt rude to us but told us his village needed nothing and that all was well.  From the looks of the children, they seemed scared and very poor, no shoes, and extremely dirty.  They also stated they havent seen coalition forces in their village in almost a year.  They are part of the Saffili tribe.  Nothing follows.

State Department observers will be interested in the work of specifical officials, like  Fareshta Shaheed, Gender and Micro-Enterprise Development Specialist with USAID, who "suggested that all speeches should be limited in length and no more speakers than 30 minutes total worth as the speeches are boring and the women loose attention" at a meeting of women in a particular province.








MORE ON WIKILEAKS:
Alexis Madrigal: "Changing the Media"
James Fallows:
"A Vietnam Precedent"
Niraj Chokshi:
"Crowdsourcing Begins"

But the raw data from situation reports and intelligence databases provides vivid detail to support the declinist view of the situation there, and it indirectly provides support for the type of changes that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who retired Friday, brought to the region when he succeed Gen. David McKiernan. He tightened the rules of engagement to the chagrin of soldiers and took tighter control of some of the special missions unit's task forces, like Task Force 2-2, whose numerous missions, successful and otherwise, are described in the data.

The U.S. government will assess the story on several levels. One is political: will the information change the nature of U.S. relationships with allies, particularly the French and the Poles, who are implicated in some of the civilian deaths? The answer there is probably no.

Will it raise skepticism in Congress? Absolutely. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, said in a statement that "[h]owever illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."

From the perspective of the government, it's helpful that information about the links between Hamid Gul and the ISI have come out; it is another lever that can be used to ratchet up the pressure against dissenting elements in Pakistan's government. Virtually all of the information contained in the database predates the President's announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy, as well as sustained, significant, and potentially (though not obviously) effective diplomacy with coalitions spanning the border.

On a tactical level, did Wikileaks reveal anything that compromises the mission? There are lots of details and names that, out of context, provide no help for an enemy, but Wikileaks published data about numerous base names, call signs, and even soldier identities.

The failed special forces attempt to kill Abu Layth Ali Libi, which resulted in the deaths of civilians, suggests the willingness of some provisional governors to collude with the official storyline:

There are about 100 detailed references to something called  "OCF" detainee transfers to the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility. OCF stands for "Other Coalition Forces." Other Coalition Forces is the approved euphemism for special forces units, usually belonging to the Joint Special Operations Command. Researchers can now begin to track the dates when people disappeared and when they were transferred. By the time of the strategy turn, there were more than 750 people in custody in Bagram, out of more than 4,500 detainees that were there at one point. Where did the rest go? When where they released?

There are references to operating locations of "OGA." OGA is how the military refers to the Central Intelligence Agency. There are also date-specific references to CIA human intelligence sources providing specific pieces of intelligence at particular times, thus potentially identifying the sources.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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