The Afghanistan Protocol: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It

In an unprecedented development, close to 92,000 classified documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan have been leaked. SPIEGEL, the New York Times and the Guardian have analyzed the raft of mostly classified documents. The war logs expose the true scale of the Western military deployment -- and the problems beleaguering Germany's Bundeswehr in the Hindu Kush.

Photo Gallery: 91,731 Documents, Five Serious Problems Photos

A total of 91,731 reports from United States military databanks relating to the war in Afghanistan are to be made publicly available on the Internet. Never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating. WikiLeaks plans to post the documents, most of which are classified, on its website.

Britain's Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and SPIEGEL have all vetted the material and compared the data with independent reports. All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide an unvarnished image of the war in Afghanistan -- from the perspective of the soldiers who are fighting it.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: A War Without End
The reports, from troops engaged in the ongoing combat, were tersely summarized and quickly dispatched. For the most part, they originate from sergeants -- but some have been penned by the occasional lieutenant at a command post or ranking analysts with the military intelligence service.

The documents' release comes at a time when calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are growing -- even in America. Last week, representatives from more than 70 nations and organizations met in Kabul for the Afghanistan conference. They assured President Hamid Karzai that his country would be in a position by 2014 to guarantee security using its own soldiers and police.

A Gloomy Picture

But such shows of optimism seem cynical in light of the descriptions of the situation in Afghanistan provided in the classified documents. Nearly nine years after the start of the war, they paint a gloomy picture. They portray Afghan security forces as the hapless victims of Taliban attacks. They also offer a conflicting impression of the deployment of drones, noting that America's miracle weapons are also entirely vulnerable.

And they show that the war in northern Afghanistan, where German troops are stationed, is becoming increasingly perilous. The number of warnings about possible Taliban attacks in the region -- fuelled by support from Pakistan -- has increased dramatically in the past year.

The documents offer a window into the war in the Hindu Kush -- one which promises to change the way we think about the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. They will also be indispensible for anyone seeking to inform themselves about the war in the future.

Despite repeated requests, the White House refused to provide any comment in time for the deadline of the printed edition of SPIEGEL. On Saturday evening, however, a White House official finally provided written answers to select questions about the content of the reports obtained, but refused to grant an interview.

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Photo Gallery: The War in Their Own Words
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, said: "Since taking office, President Obama has been very clear and candid with the American people about the challenges that we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president and senior officials in his administration have spoken openly and repeatedly about the safe havens that exist in Pakistan, the security and governance challenges in Afghanistan, and the difficulties that lie ahead. ... It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009. The war in Afghanistan was under-resourced for many years. ... On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy and new resources for Afghanistan and Pakistan precisely because of the grave situation there."

Responding to the intention of WikiLeaks to make the classified military documents available online, Rhodes said: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations that put the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security." He said that WikiLeaks made "no effort to contact the United States government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners and local populations who cooperate with us."

The editors in chief of SPIEGEL, the New York Times and the Guardian have agreed that they would not publish especially sensitive information in the classified material -- like the names of the US military's Afghan informants or information that could create additional security risks for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The publishers were unanimous in their belief that there is a justified public interest in the material because it provides a more thorough understanding of a war that continues today after almost nine years.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has summarized a selection of the most important findings in the data:

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Read More

You can read further articles about the War Logs on the New York Times and Guardian websites:

Graphic: Deadly Toll Zoom

Graphic: Deadly Toll

Graphic: No peaceful end in sight Zoom

Graphic: No peaceful end in sight

Map: The War Zone Zoom

Map: The War Zone