Friday, July 30, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Afghan War

It’s been five days since WikiLeaks released the raw intelligence data about the Afghan war.

If you are a true political junky you have probably devoured the reportage by The NY Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. If you’ve missed any of it I suggest you visit those sites and get caught up. Links below.

There are two questions that can be asked about this huge data dump: Has it done any harm and does it tell us anything about the progress of the war that we (as citizens here at home) didn’t already know?

Let’s talk about the possible damage. On this issue Don Smith, over at Fort Buckley, makes an excellent point. The data dumps revealed the names of numerous Afghan informants upon whom our forces relied. Those informants were ordinary Afghanis and not part of the Afghan government, police, political officials.

They have now been put in harm’s way and, worse, their reasonable expectation of confidentiality has been damaged...with the result that informants will be less likely to come forward in the future.

It’s argued by some that another source of damage is the fact that these reports reveal something about the response tactics of our forces; something that the Taliban somehow didn’t know. It’s not clear to me that this could be true, since the Taliban have been on the receiving end of those tactics and they’re not dummies.

So what do we at home know that’s new, really new? Not much, with the possible exception of the fact that the enemy now has heat-seeking missiles with which to bring down helicopters. I imagine they’re a bit more sophisticated than the weapons we gave the Mujahidin with which to torment the Russian bear.

For the rest of it, all the leaks do is confirm what we might already have assumed from news reports:

The Taliban are skilled guerilla fighters, whose mobility allows them to offset some of the advantages of heavily mechanized armies. Like all guerilla forces they have the advantage of invisibility, able to melt into the population, like fish in the ocean.

The Afghanis have apparently no real sense of “Nationhood.” Afghanistan is essentially a collection of tribal fiefdoms in which corruption (or what we recognize as corruption) is simply what they recognize as common practice.

Corruption is so commonplace that it became fodder for an American comic strip. Trudeau (Doonesbury) spent a week describing an Afghan commander and his soldiers systematically disassembling an army post and selling it off piecemeal.

Civilian deaths do us no good, and there have been a number of them. I believe that we have made every effort to avoid them. However, in the fog of war, especially in the sort of guerilla war that is Afghanistan, face this fact: These deaths are tragic, but unavoidable.

To the extent that we, as American citizens, continue to support this war, or fail to oppose it, the responsibility for those deaths are yours and mine

Finally, something we knew but didn’t want to face: It is cheaper for the Taliban to fight us than it is for us to fight them. The latest supplemental war funding bill was a shade less than 59 billion dollars. That’s 59,000 million dollars. Since we are planning to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan that figures to almost 2 million dollars a soldier.

Perhaps it’s time for us, as citizens, as voters, to discuss what we really want to do about this war. Nine years is a long time; 1215 deaths and 6773 casualties is a high cost in human suffering; 90 billion dollars (Heritage Foundation estimate through 2010) is a lot of money.

Does the present state of the Afghan war represent success or failure? Ultimately it’s our call.

Here are some links:

Der Spiegel

The Guardian

NY Times

Fort Buckley

Re-posted from Http://

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