WikiLeaks Bombshell on Afghan War: What You Need to Know

Despite advance claims of secret documents coming soon, it still felt like this bombshell arrived almost out of nowhere Sunday afternoon: WikiLeaks not only released more than 90,000 docs related to the United States and the war in Afghanistan, but the New York TImes played it for all it was worth (as it turns out, quite a lot). In fact, the Times, The Guardian in London and Der Spiegel had been studying the documents and preparing for this for weeks.The Times highlighted it as "The War Logs" -- Pentagon Papers, anyone? -- with the subhed, "A six-year archive of classified military documents offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war." It also raises questions about the media coverage of the war to date.

The White House has slammed the release of classified reports, pointing out the documents end in 2009 just before President Obama set a new policy in the war, and claiming that it is all suspect because WIkileaks is allegedly against the Afghanistan war. 

In a fascinating passage, the Times revealed it also served as a kind of unofficial intermediary for the White House: "We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts. We have not linked to the archives of raw material. At the request of the White House, the Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site." 

It will be interesting to see how the three top newspapers decided, separately, which documents to publish -- and which to withhold. Here's Der Spiegel's main page.  President Karzai is not shocked by any of it -- perhaps a troubling sign. There's so much to read and digest we will simply point you in a few directions here, beyond the WikiLeaks site itself.

-- The main NYT piece, on the Pakistani collaboration: "The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders." A trove of documents, separated by subject matter, here.  

-- Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, says the outfit is studying another 15,000 docs it will release after redacting some names. He comments on the release so far: “It shows not only the severe incidents but the general squalor of war, from the death of individual children to major operations that kill hundreds." Update: Watch his Monday press conference here.

-- The Times editors published a special note to readers on the release explaining how it had obtained and independently verified the documents: "Deciding whether to publish secret information is always difficult, and after weighing the risks and public interest, we sometimes chose not to publish. But there are times when the information is of significant public interest, and this is one of those times. The documents illuminate the extraordinary difficulty of what the United States and its allies have undertaken in a way that other accounts have not."

-- Politico's Ben Smith has this interesting background on the Times: "Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet, reporter Mark Mazzetti and a third Timesman presented senior administration officials with synopses of the reports they planned to use, if not the actual documents, at a meeting in the White House late last week, the person said." Mike Calderone of Yahoo: Baquet told him White House praised paper "for being responsible" with WikiLeaks docs.   

-- Daniel Ellsberg on Democracy Now! says WikiLeaks documents release on same scale as Pentagon Papers.  

-- Excellent analysis by Amy Davidson of The New Yorker. To make full use of documents, "we will, again, have to think hard about what we are trying to learn: Is it what we are doing, day to day, on the ground in Afghanistan, and how we could do it better? Or what we are doing in Afghanistan at all?"

-- The Guardian carried a tough editorial on its website, calling the picture "disturbing" and raising doubts about ever winning this war, adding: "These war logs -- written in the heat of engagement -- show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised 'public' war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting."

-- Jay Rosen asks some good questions here at his PressThink blog.  

-- Glenn Greenwald weighs in: "The White House has predictably condemned WikiLeaks rather harshly, and it will be most interesting to see how many Democrats -- who claim to find Daniel Ellsberg heroic and the Pentagon Papers leak to be unambiguously justified -- follow the White House's lead in that regard." ... Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic: The leak reveals the new state of the media, a kind of Pentagon Papers in real time, with all docs out there and anyone can join in publishing and/or analyzing them."

-- One key Times assessment: "The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s."

-- A shocking account in The Guardian of the CIA and paramilitary roles in horrific number of civilians deaths in Afghanistan, most cases obviously covered up until now. Plus: The Guardian asks: Is this a game-changer for British policy? 

-- One US memo: "The general view of Afghans is that current gov't is worse than the Taliban."

-- The Washington Post, left out of the original document dump, belatedly catches up here, and also publishes docs.

-- Philip Shenon: So, who was the leaker? Bradley Manning? Or, more than one? 

-- Spencer Ackerman at Wired probes the new docs deeply: "This massive storehouse has the potential to be strategically significant, raising doubts about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war. It not only recounts 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 other words, 2010’s answer to the Pentagon Papers is a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks."  

-- Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic analyzes here -- along with political fallout. He notes response by Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee: "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions...."

-- NYT's C.J. Chivers focuses on story told by documents about one base: "Nothing in the documents made public on Sunday offers as vivid a miniature of the Afghan war so far -- from hope to heartbreak -- as the field reports from one lonely base: Combat Outpost Keating."

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