What the WikiLeaks documents tells us about life in Afghanistan
First off, ignore the puerile whining from the White House about “national security” and “threats to the lives of soldiers in the field” and so forth. One might have expected more from the White House and America with its tradition of rather greater openness – but this kind of thing is down there with the British Ministry of Defence in terms of blaming the messenger rather than the message, writes Alex Thomson.
It has little to do with anybody’s security. The notion that the snatch or kill squad has a name – Task Force 373 will make not one jot of difference to their mission.
And so goes almost all of the 90,000 odd documents released via WikiLeaks.
Much of it is BDA – Battle Damage Assessment and thus after-event stuff – not planning or strategy or any of the really sensitive stuff.
That is why if you read through the Guardian summary you will rather be left with the felling of so what? Didn’t we already know that human intelligence on the ground is miserably poor; that the Afghans by and large deeply resent westerners invading and occupying their land; that large numbers of civilians get killed; that the Americans would far sooner bomb an Afghan village than put any of their troops at real risk; that the Pakistanis are at best ambivalent about the Taliban on their side of the border and so on.
The answer to all that is yes – but that is not why this vast leak of material is important
It is all about validation – not revelation.
The point is that this is according to WikiLeaks from the horse’s mouth and if it is verified it is NATO validating the above conclusions from reporters like me who take (small but significant) advantage of the embed system of allowing reporters some limited access to the war.
Had we the Vietnam era of wide and free-ranging access across Afghanistan then much more of this picture of confusion and off-hand civilian killing would have come to more strongly than it now has.
What comes across most striking is the catastrophic lack of human intelligence which is the single biggest factor as to why this war can never, ever, be won. I know that I go on banging this point home but it really cannot be said forcefully enough.
The endless picture in these dispatches is of an occupying army that does not know the land, the people, the language and thus understand either the motives of movements of those it seeks to subdue. So it is ever terrified, trigger-twitchy, unsure who is who.
The tragic shooting and wounding of a man running away in a village high in the Afghan mountains typifies this. It is almost poetic.
Special forces pile into a village and shout at a man who is running away. He ignores the shout. They fire a warning shot. He fails to stop. They shoot him. The man is deaf and mute.
They didn’t know, of course, they didn’t know. They didn’t know almost everything about his village, his people, their lives and their motivations and disposition.
They merely followed their procedure. The wounded man was given some provisions by way of “compensation. And the mission moved on. Moved onto another level of futility.
And it is the exposure of this, the lack of transparency from NATO about what its soldiers have been doing, day in, day out, which has now been laid bare.