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An American flag is placed in a dirt-filled barrier outside the headquarters of 3rd Platoon, 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Divivion, at Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar. (BOB STRONG/BOB STRONG/REUTERS)
An American flag is placed in a dirt-filled barrier outside the headquarters of 3rd Platoon, 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Divivion, at Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar. (BOB STRONG/BOB STRONG/REUTERS)

Distrust among allies rife, leaked reports show Add to ...

They smile together at press conferences and claim common cause against the Taliban, but thousands of leaked secret military reports show the terrible depths of mistrust among allies in Afghanistan.

The classified records released on the WikiLeaks website don't contain any stunning revelations about the war, but page after page chronicles the behind-the-scenes bitterness that often gets hidden under a patina of diplomacy.

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Their release will further erode relationships among the allies, analysts say, because the documents expose what many low- and mid-level officers think about their purported friends.

Pakistan reacted with outrage at the top story to emerge from the documents, the allegation its biggest spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, colluded with the Taliban even while ostensibly co-operating with the United States.

But the records also highlight other quiet feuds: Afghan and Pakistani security forces skirmishing along the border; Afghans fighting gun battles among themselves; Afghan intelligence officers becoming so distrustful of the Canadians, at one point, that they stopped sharing information.

In Islamabad, some observers wondered whether the leaks were part of an American campaign to pressure Pakistan into stronger action against the Taliban. The documents show that the U.S. military communicated dozens of tips about ISI helping the Taliban hatch plans to attack planes, bomb an embassy and even poison the beer supply for foreign troops.

"These leaks undermine the co-operation among the agencies," said Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant-general who now works as a defence analyst in Islamabad. The country's military and intelligence establishments are growing tired of such allegations which, rather than spurring Pakistan into fighting the Taliban, only fuel anti-Americanism, he said. "You don't make any friends by hammering away like this."

Strained friendships have permeated the Afghan mission, the documents show. When Canadian military officials sat down for a curry lunch hosted by the Pakistani military in the dusty border crossing of Chaman in 2007, the meeting turned into a discussion of why foreign troops had allegedly ventured into Pakistan the previous evening, killing a Pakistani soldier and taking others hostage. Such an operation would have violated the strict limits that Pakistan places on foreign troops visiting the country, and the Canadian delegation could apparently do little to enlighten their hosts about how it might have happened.

The officer who wrote a summary of that meeting noted that the entire delegation eventually got back to Kandahar Air Field "safe and sound," but other disputes along the border have turned deadly. The documents record far more skirmishes between Afghan and Pakistani forces than publicly reported. One involved company-sized forces facing off against each other, threatening battle over the placement of a flag.

After another meeting aimed at defusing the tensions, a U.S. officer expressed skepticism about whether his Pakistani counterpart was capable of action against the Taliban.

"He is likely so disconnected with the ground truth that his own soldiers could be assisting TB [Taliban]border crossings," the officer wrote. The Pakistani officer had offered to put his forces in motion if the U.S. military noticed any Taliban incursions, but his American interlocutor wasn;t thrilled by the idea. "I doubt that this would do any good because PAKMIL/ISI [Pakistan military or ISI]is likely involved with the border crossing," he wrote.

Nor was there any more unity among the Afghan units supposedly co-operating against the Taliban. In October, 2007, soldiers in a Canadian outpost watched as Afghan soldiers and police opened fire on each other on the streets of Bazaar-e-Panjwai, the biggest town southwest of Kandahar city. It seemed that Afghan soldiers had intervened after the local police fatally shot a shopkeeper who resisted being robbed by police. Shortly afterward, foreign troops were called to disperse a mob of 300 villagers who protested against the shopkeeper's death by setting fires and attacking supply trucks.

Canada has had its own problems with its allies, the records show. After a friendly-fire incident in August, 2006, in which an Afghan policeman was killed and several others injured in the Zhari desert, the classified reporting shows that the local commander of the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan's intelligence service, was "irate and confrontational." The NDS commander claimed that Canada was behaving no differently than the Taliban, and refused to share his intelligence.

"We have lost a good source of information," the report says.

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