In many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.
At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.
McChrystal, who had access to a whole lot more information than WikiLeaks, said the Taliban were aided by “elements of some intelligence agencies” — meaning the Pakistanis — something US officials have been saying for years. He talked of a popular “crisis of confidence” with the government of Afghanistan and warned that the steady stream of civilian casualties had to be stemmed.
The administration is arguing these documents, which date until December 2009, are merely an account of the failures of former President George W. Bush’s policy, and in many ways they have a point.
There is nothing in here remotely as explosive as the Pentagon Papers, which documented systematic lying about the conduct of the Vietnam war. But the Kabul War Diary catalogues the failures and problems of the Afghan conflict in huge detail, often from the perspective of ordinary troops. The documents record a constant stream of engagements in which civilians were killed, and help substantiate the allegations against Pakistan.