by Alex Thomson
July 26, 2010
First off, ignore the puerile whining from the
White House about “national security” and “threats to the lives of soldiers
in the field” and so forth.
One might have expected more from the White
House and America with its tradition of rather greater openness - but this
kind of thing is down there with the British Ministry of Defense in terms of
blaming the messenger rather than the message, writes Alex Thomson.
It has little to do with anybody’s security. The notion that the snatch or
kill squad has a name -
Task Force 373 will make not one jot of difference
to their mission.
And so goes almost all of the
90,000 odd documents released via WikiLeaks.
Much of it is BDA - Battle Damage Assessment and thus after-event stuff -
not planning or strategy or any of the really sensitive stuff. That is why
if you read through
the Guardian summary you will rather be
left with the felling of, 'so what?'
Didn’t we already know,
human intelligence on the ground is
that the Afghans by and large deeply
resent westerners invading and occupying their land
that large numbers of civilians get
that the Americans would far sooner bomb
an Afghan village than put any of their troops at real risk
that the Pakistanis are at best
ambivalent about the Taliban on their side of the border and so on.
The answer to all that is yes - but that is not
why this vast leak of material is important
It is all about validation - not revelation.
The point is that this is
according to WikiLeaks from the horse’s mouth and
if it is verified it is NATO validating the above conclusions from reporters
like me who take (small but significant) advantage of the embed system of
allowing reporters some limited access to the war.
Had we the Vietnam era of wide and free-ranging access across Afghanistan
then much more of this picture of confusion and off-hand civilian killing
would have come to more strongly than it now has.
What comes across most striking is the catastrophic lack of human
intelligence which is the single biggest factor as to why this war can
never, ever, be won. I know that I go on banging this point home but it
really cannot be said forcefully enough.
The endless picture in these dispatches is of an occupying army that does
not know the land, the people, the language and thus understand either the
motives of movements of those it seeks to subdue.
So it is ever terrified,
trigger-twitchy, unsure who is who.
The tragic shooting and wounding of a man running away in a village high in
the Afghan mountains typifies this. It is almost poetic.
Special forces pile into a village and shout at a man who is running away.
He ignores the shout. They fire a warning shot. He fails to stop. They shoot
him. The man is deaf and mute.
They didn’t know, of course, they didn’t know. They didn’t know almost
everything about his village, his people, their lives and their motivations
They merely followed their procedure. The wounded man was given some
provisions by way of “compensation."
And the mission moved on. Moved onto
another level of futility.
And it is the exposure of this, the lack of transparency from
what its soldiers have been doing, day in, day out, which has now been laid