Friday, July 30, 2010



The 90-odd thousand military reports from the troops in Afghanistan leaked to the press do not contain any startling revelations. They suggest, but not definitively, that the Taliban may have more sophisticated weapons than had heretofore been thought. It confirms what was previously only a strong suspicion that the Pakistani Secret Service (ISI), the original sponsors of the Taliban in Afghanistan, still have cordial and supportive relations with them.

Most startling to me was the news that civilian casualties due to military action were much higher and more frequent than we heard in official reports. Some people in the know, moreover, found that some of the killings of civilians they knew about were not even mentioned in the WikiLeak papers. The problems of killed civilians is not only significantly greater than we are being told but also than reported by the troops on the ground. No one knows how much suffering we are inflicting every day.

This is terrible news for a number of reasons:

It is terrible news for the people of Afghanistan who have suffered immeasurably for decades.

It makes the question of what we are doing in Afghanistan more pressing. Osama bin Laden has long since left. Al Quaida training camps have moved to the Arabian Peninsula. Ostensibly we are trying to defeat the Taliban in order to leave a more peaceful Afghanistan behind. We are trying to protect, we say, the Afghan population. But if they are dying regularly due to our military actions, what sort of protection is that? We can understand why they are wanting us to leave.

The high civilian death toll puts the US strategy of trying to win “the hearts and minds” of the population in question. Our soldiers are told to take special care not to injure civilians even in situations where they feel that this restraint endangers their own lives. But if restraint is not working, if the death toll of men, women, and children, young and old remains unacceptably high, is there any chance that we might win over the Afghan population to our side? From the recent news it looks like a forlorn hope.

And finally, there are grave implications for our democracy. “Democracy” the textbook tells us, means that “the people rule.” But what if the people do not know what is going on? If their government sends armies into the field without consulting the people and then keeps facts about the progress of the war secret, how can the people have an opinion and make good decisions? If, as in the Iraq war, the government goes to war and lies to the people about the justification, how can the people make good decisions?

If we learn anything from WikiLeak it is that we must redouble our efforts to end this terrible war.