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Earlier Discussion

What do the leaked Afghanistan documents tell us? Add to ...

12:27 Graeme Smith: Yes, there's always the worry that these supposedly secret systems will get less useful if there's a risk of them being compromised. That applies to the Afghan informant who becomes more worries for his own safety, and to the U.S. soldier who gets concerned about the wrong eyes seeing what he types into his laptop, and to the senior officer who designs these systems and decides who gets to see the information. All along the chain, more paranoia means less useful intelligence.

12:27 [Comment From BJB: ] For anyone that's been paying attention, these documents don't appear to tell anything particularly new - do you think the analogy to the Pentagon Papers is valid?

12:27 [Comment From Michelle Michelle: ] what's the most shocking piece of evidence you read in these documents?

12:28 Shane Dingman: Those two reader comments posed some related questions about the relative weight of these documents, maybe you could mash their questions together into one answer...

12:32 Graeme Smith: Hi BJB. You're right, some media reports have dramatically overstated the importance of this stuff. I was shocked to see a front-page story in the New York Times claiming that we hadn't previously known about heat-seeking missiles in Taliban hands. I reported that - and okay, the folks in New York maybe weren't reading my stories - but many others noted it as well, including the well-known military analyst Anthony Cordesman. The archive is amazing enough. I don't think we need to overstate what it contains.... and Michelle: So far, the most surprising thing has been the 2007 flag meeting in Chaman between Canadian, Afghan, and Pakistani officials. I mentioned it at the bottom of today's story. The Canadians sat down for tea and lunch with their Pakistani hosts, enjoyed some light musical entertainment, and then the Pakistanis said, by the way, your foreign troops went into Pakistan yesterday and killed one of our soldiers. That report made me sit up straight. Must have been an interesting meeting.

12:34 [Comment From Guest: ]/b> We've known about ISI's support for the Taliban for decades - no surprise there - the big problem was getting CDN and US analysts to admit this was at the core of the war in Afghanistan - our strategy has been wrong from the start The Manley Report devotes 2 sentences to the border issue and that apparently from the best that DFAIT has to offer

12:38 Graeme Smith: Yes, I was also underwhelmed by the Manley report. Go back and read it. Doesn't the advice seem terribly quaint by now? In their defence, very few analysts understood what was happening as the violence escalated rapidly after 2005. ... And for the record, I think that Pakistan's role in the conflict has been very complicated. It's not as simple as saying "the ISI supports the Taliban." Pakistan has to play a very long-term game in this region, because after the NATO forces pull up stakes and leave Afghanistan, of course Pakistan will remain here, dealing with whatever comes next. That means preparing for some kind of political solution with the Taliban.

12:39 Shane Dingman: Galool asks: Can these documents form the basis for possible War Crimes investigations?

12:39 Shane Dingman: Certainly, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, suggested that he thought there might be evidence of war crimes in these documents. For instance, there has already been some concern over 200-odd reports that involve Task Force 373, which according to AP was "an elite military special operations unit tasked with hunting down and killing enemy combatants in Afghanistan."

I often wonder in these discussions of war crimes why the Taliban's actions aren't mentioned as criminal, but perhaps that's a separate question.

12:44 Graeme Smith: I'm a bit limited on this, because I'm not an expert on international law. I did see a mention of Canadian troops - possibly - using white phosphorous mortar shells, which would - possibly - violate international norms on incendiary weapons, but it's often hard to determine from the short bulletins what's really happening. About the "capture/kill" operations: we already knew that was happening. I've reported in detail on those raids. Whether or not they violate international law, well, that's a conversation that's been going on for a while - especially around the use of drones to kill people in Pakistan's tribal areas. The UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Philip Alston, has been doing some of the leading work on that topic.

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