How an antiwar website’s release of classified military documents helps strengthen the case for the war in Afghanistan.
In April of this year, the Swedish-based whistleblower website WikiLeaks released classified video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which several civilians were killed. Military sources protested that the video was taken out of context, but WikiLeaks’ intent was plain enough: to undermine support for the U.S. military effort in Iraq. Now WikiLeaks is attempting to repeat the ploy for Afghanistan. This week it released over 90,000 secret documents with the goal of casting U.S. military efforts in the country in a negative light.
But just as the earlier video triggered a backlash from the military challenging WikiLeaks’ credibility, the new leaks also may not serve the website’s antiwar agenda. Indeed, some of the documents -- already being hailed in media quarters as the successor to the Pentagon Papers -- could backfire on WikiLeaks because they expose the Taliban’s close alliances with Iran, Pakistan and Al-Qaeda and thus bolster a key rationale for the war in Afghanistan – that the U.S. military is fighting terrorists abroad so that we do not have to face them at home.
Documents released this week make nonsense of the antiwar Left’s claim that the Taliban are really nationalists fighting against occupation. They reveal them instead as radical Islamists acting as proxies for foreign elements, including al-Qaeda. The documents also show why U.S. military commanders accuse Iran of supporting the Taliban with arms, including advanced improvised explosive devices, and training. Although the two nearly went to war in 1999 after the Taliban murdered eight Iranian diplomats, they reconciled shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The alliance is tighter and has existed much longer than one would conclude from the recent statements by American and Afghan officials.
It is impossible to confirm the information contained in each individual leaked document, but together they paint a clear picture of close collaboration between Iran and the Taliban. In 2005, the Revolutionary Guards delivered over $200,000 to Hezb-e-Islami-Gulbuddin (HIG), an Islamist militant group fighting in Afghanistan. Eight Taliban leaders with seven bodyguards were also reported to be in Iran planning attacks on non-governmental organizations, Afghan government officials, and U.S. forces. The Iranian regime was said to be offering $1,740 for every Afghan soldier killed and $3,841 for each government official. Taliban commanders also planned attacks from Mashhad, an area that has been previously fingered as an al-Qaeda transit point and even as a hiding spot for Osama Bin Laden.
At least two reports confirm that the Taliban receives bomb components from Iran. A human intelligence report from June 2006 says that the Iranians were training the Taliban and HIG and sending explosives and vehicles for attacks into Afghanistan. Another document reveals the names and descriptions of two Iranian “secret service” operatives in Parwan Province that were trying to enlist the support of locals in creating propaganda against the Afghan government and international forces. The Iranians also arranged the travel for injured Taliban militants to Tehran for medical treatment, it is alleged.
The documents indicate that Iranian support for the Taliban has been extensive and consistent up until today. In February 2007, Afghans in Helmand Province reported that the Iranians had supplied the Taliban with poison for assassinations. Al-Qaeda was also said to have been “helped by Iran” that year in acquiring 72 air-to-air missiles from Algeria which were then stockpiled in Zahedan, another area known to house Al-Qaeda. The following year, another report said that Iran provided the group with components for 20 IEDs that would be used to kill British soldiers. In September 2008, four Revolutionary Guards personnel in Herat Province met with terrorists, including one tied to Al-Qaeda, to help coordinate anti-government operations and provide intelligence. In March of last year, it is reported that over 100 Taliban members were dispatched to Afghanistan from Iran to carry out suicide attacks. As late as September 2009, rocket-propelled grenade launchers with “Made in Iran” written on them were being used by the Taliban to target helicopters.
The reason Iran’s meddling in Afghanistan hasn’t been made public is explained in one file. President Karzai requested that the U.S. not publicize the finding of Iranian weapons in Kandahar, so as not to jeopardize an upcoming visit by Ahmadinejad. An April 2007 file says that he wanted “to avoid additional friction with Afghanistan’s neighbors.” The documents also show that Afghan and U.S. officials were having trouble thinking up ways to counter Iran’s efforts to influence political parties through bribery, spending $4 million on 90 parliamentarians. It appears that fear has caused the Afghan government not to expose Iran’s terrorism connections.
The Pakistani connection is less surprising but no less damning. The New York Times stated that the documents show that Pakistan “allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” The Guardian cautions that the documents could be based on false intelligence but the sheer volume of documents proves that the ISI intelligence service is involved in terrorism. At least 180 files, 27 of which are described as relying upon a “fairly reliable source,” mention the ISI link.
One name that is frequently mentioned is that of Hamid Gul, who served as the head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989. He has been using his network of contacts to assist the Taliban, Jaluluddin Haqqani, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in their violent campaigns. Pakistan has been reluctant to really crack down on these networks, and the U.S. is pressuring them to enforce sanctions on three individuals helping them to fundraise.
The Taliban leadership has long been known to have a presence in Quetta in Baluchistan. A report from June 2006 says that ISI officers met with the Taliban there to offer strategic guidance. The next year, the reports say that the ISI sent 1,000 motorcycles for suicide attacks to the Haqqani network and offered $15,000-$30,000 to terrorists who murder and kidnap Indians in Afghanistan. They also place blame for the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul on the ISI. Agency operatives also planned an attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad and reportedly wanted to use children as suicide bombers.
In 2008, the Afghan National Directorate of Security warned the U.S. that an ISI officer had sent a squad of three terrorists to kill President Karzai. Other reports claim that ISI personnel visited madrasses near Peshawar to recruit terrorist operatives and that the agency discussed a plot with the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan with poisoned alcoholic drinks.
The Pakistani ambassador has reacted to these reports by saying they “do not reflect the current on-ground realities.” However, if Pakistan denied supporting the Taliban and other Islamists this whole time, there is little reason to believe them now. After all, a British report recently concluded that the ISI’s involvement with the Taliban “is officially sanctioned at the highest levels of the Pakistan government.” The study said that seven of the 15-man Taliban Shura council are agents of the ISI and that in April, President Zardari and an ISI official met with 50 high-ranking Taliban members in prison to reassure them they’d be released once U.S. pressure decreased. The families of suicide bombers are also said to be compensated by ISI personnel.
“Pakistan and Iran’s assistance to the Taliban and all the other groups there is vital because of the intelligence and logistical support they provide. The intelligence given to the Taliban by those two countries is more important than the guns, ammunition, and explosives they give,” Kerry Patton, author of Sociocultural Intelligence, told FrontPage. Patton served as a government operator in Afghanistan and interviewed many Taliban members.
Patton also noted that “our counter-intelligence folks need to do a better job of deterring and preventing members within from leaking information. Unfortunately, what was leaked will be used for anti-government propaganda.”
Although Patton is right that some of the content will be used as propaganda by enemies of the U.S. and its allies, the WikiLeaks documents also undermine the argument that the Taliban is different than Al-Qaeda because it did not carry out 9/11 and therefore the war in Afghanistan is not worth the cost.
High-level monthly meetings between Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Baradar with Osama Bin Laden in Quetta in August 2006 are described. Another file mentions a January 2009 meeting between Hamid Gul and three Afghan militant commanders and three Arabs with a large security force to discuss how to exact revenge for the CIA’s killing of an Al-Qaeda leader. In one unsubstantiated document, it is claimed that Guldbuddin Hekmatyar and a colleague of Osama Bin Laden flew to North Korea from Iran on November 19, 2005. Reportedly, they returned to Helmand Province in Afghanistan around December 3 after concluding a deal with the North Koreans to sell them rockets. The Guardian wrote that “numerous threat reports link Bin Laden and al-Qaida to the full range of conventional insurgency activities, including rocket smuggling in Kandahar Province.”
The disclosure of these documents, which includes reports about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, is part of WikiLeaks’ antiwar agenda. The organization has hinted that it is planning to release material about a so-called massacre in Afghanistan last year. Unfortunately for WikiLeaks, the documents serve as a reminder that the U.S. is not the cause of the problems in Afghanistan. In its attempts to undermine the war in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks has merely offered proof for the pro-war argument that the fight against the Taliban and other militants cannot be separated from the fight against Al-Qaeda.