The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have reacted with predictable shock and dismay to the appearance on the non-profit website WikiLeaks of some 92,000 U.S. military documents on the calamitous war in Afghanistan. Material on the conduct of German, French, and Polish troops — fellow-members of the International Security Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) — is a sort of bonus. The New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel collaborated in analysing and placing substantial amounts of the information on the Internet, though they have withheld details that are likely to heighten the danger to U.S. troops and their partners. The White House, however, says the leaks might put American lives and those of partners at risk and could threaten national security. The U.K. expresses similar concerns. The documents show that intelligence is unreliable and often unverifiable; that ISAF communications frequently break down; that there are technical problems with equipment, including drone aircraft; and that troops are so frightened of suicide bombers and Taliban collaborators that they have killed hundreds of civilians by shooting and bombing indiscriminately. Furthermore, large numbers of ordinary Afghans fear and hate the foreign troops and are victims of the corruption and brutality that pervade the U.S-backed Hamid Karzai government. Taliban forces, for their part, are increasingly well-trained and adept, and their roadside bombs have killed over 2,000 civilians.

The WikiLeaks exposé has been likened to the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, the contents of which significantly strengthened worldwide opposition to the Vietnam war, and also to the publication of pictures of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It turns out that the CIA has its own secret operation to kill suspected Taliban leaders, that incident reports conceal civilian deaths and other failures, and that the U.S. military has covered up the Taliban's acquisition of heat-seeking missiles. Politically speaking, there is deepening international concern that the ISAF presence is not doing anything other than wrecking Afghanistan and strengthening the Taliban. The U.S., in particular, has persistently underestimated the weakness and incompetence of the Afghan government. Therefore, prosecuting anyone found responsible for the leak amounts to nothing more than shooting the messenger. That will address neither the chaos in Afghanistan nor the fact that a war effort that has already cost over $300 billion is totally directionless. The very concept of a victory, military or political, is now completely unintelligible and the official lies about Afghanistan can no longer be sustained.

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