I’m on column duty for tomorrow’s newspaper, so I don’t have time to do the topic full justice. It’s already pretty clear, however, the release of more than 90,000 previously secret internal military documents about the war in Afghanistan is likely to echo through the national discussion for weeks if not months.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, the material documents in ground-level detail just how difficult it has been to make lasting progress in just about any endeavor in Afghanistan. Whatever small gain we make today is washed away tomorrow, with little sense that larger goals are within reach.
The Obama administration is understandably downplaying the relevance of the documents, as the Washington Post reports:
White House officials and their allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan sought Monday to play down the political and military impact of the unauthorized release of thousands of classified Afghan war documents, saying they portray a reality on the ground that is already largely known…..
Even as they sought to minimize their significance, senior administration officials acknowledged that they had been anxiously awaiting the long-rumored posting of the documents. “There is not a lot new here for those who have been following developments closely,” one U.S. official said Sunday.
Washington officials are also pointing out that the documents cover a time frame before President Obama’s decision to commit additional manpower and resources to the fight.
“These leaked reports pre-date our new strategy in Afghanistan and should not be used as a measure of success or a determining factor in our continued mission there,” according to Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “… since these reports were issued, Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban, including efforts that led to the capture of the highest-ranking member of the Taliban since the start of the war.”
“The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009,” National Security Adviser James Jones responded. “On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years.”
The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that things have changed in any fundamental way since Dec. 1, 2009, and so far, the mundane if discouraging details contained in those 90,000 documents make a strong argument that they probably never will.