The six-year archive of 92,000 US military documents, possibly the biggest intelligence leak in history, released by Wikileaks gives an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the Afghan war that is more grim than the official portrayal.
The documents are a diary of a US-led force often starved for resources as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.
The documents —spanning January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001. They sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the insurgents.
It also reminds that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid.
The documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show the US military made misleading public statements — attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of Stinger-like heat-seeking missiles, for the first time shown to be part of the Taliban’s arsenal, or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by US commandos.
The documents do not cover events in 2010, when the influx of more troops into Afghanistan began and a new counterinsurgency strategy took hold.
The reports portray a resilient insurgency that has bled US forces through a war of small cuts. Taliban intimidation of Afghan officials and civilians — applied with pressure through violence, money — comes through in hundreds of reports.