Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The Afghanistan Papers

The Afghanistan Papers

Somehow, and this is just an informed guess, I suspect you're going to hear a lot more hue and cry over the course of the coming week about the decision by the New York Times and the UK Guardian and Der Spiegel to release and write about 92,000 pages of leaked log entries from the Afghanistan war than you'll hear about what the papers actually say about a military engagement gone terribly wrong.

We really are reliving the 1960s here, aren't we? Last week was civil rights week, and this week we'll be reenacting the Pentagon Papers. I think the goal for the Times and the Guardian and any other outfit that received such information is clear (as the Times stated this afternoon in a letter to its readers) -- which is to publish leaked material that is in the public interest, and withhold information that could harm ongoing military operations or endanger troops. Time will tell if they succeeded.

This story also reminds me of the Pentagon Papers in that there's nothing especially shocking here -- you probably already knew of problems like the Taliban's long history of close ties to Pakistani intelligence -- but the overall picture is damaging and could lead to some rethinking of our Afghanistan policies. One thing the documents reveal in heartbreaking details is the way that the war is (warning: another Vietnam reference coming) losing the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians:

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The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents. Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests in the past, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers. At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, although this is likely to be an underestimate because many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.

Bloody errors at civilians' expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.

The high civilian casualty rate is not -- in my mind -- any sort of indictment of the troops, who are duty bound to protect their comrades and themselves above all, and have been thrust into an untenable position by policy makers. The bottom line is running this kind of war, in a place like Afghanistan, is going to turn entire families and maybe entire villages against America and the West, and so (with the reported number of al-Qaeda members down to a handful) why are we there? Speaking of policy makers, the Nixon -- excuse me....the Obama administration is highly critical of the leaks, as you would expect.

Maybe Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has a psychiatrist's office that Obama's "plumbers" can break into.

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Will Bunch
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