000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan
posted by Wikileaks and made public on Sunday are already causing a firestorm.
Although I can't claim to have reviewed the tens of thousands of documents myself (Human Rights First will be reviewing them for specific information on detentions at Bagram and the U.S. reliance on private contractors in Afghanistan), the accounts from diligent reporters so far suggest that the documents support the Obama administration's new rules of engagement, which emphasize the importance of keeping civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. While some soldiers in combat have complained about that, the latest reports in these newly-released documents that some U.S. efforts to target insurgents has led to the killing of civilians and stoked Afghan anger suggest that the administration's efforts to limit the use of air power so as not to kill Afghan civilians unnecessarily was the right move. Reducing unnecessary civilian casualties is not only important to compliance with the laws of war, but it's critical to the U.S. counterinsurgency effort. After all, killing Afghan civilians isn't a very effective way to win hearts and minds. The change in the rules also appears to have responded to solid information the military had received about field operations gone wrong.
Many of the failures in Afghanistan reportedly catalogued in the released documents, which do not extend past 2009 and therefore do not reflect the impact of the new rules of engagement, appear to be the result of insufficient investment in securing Afghanistan and preparing the Afghan police and security forces to responsibly assume their appropriate roles in their own country. To the extent that the U.S. military is currently working with NATO forces to train the Afghan police and security forces to improve their practices, these Wiki-released documents support that effort.
Human Rights First has consistently urged the administration to plan for the turnover of U.S. detention operations to the Afghan government by helping the Afghans develop fair and humane detention and justice systems that reflect a commitment to international standards of due process for suspected terrorists. The Afghans need civilian training, support and funding for those efforts, which are critical to allowing the U.S. to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan responsibly. I plan to take a trip to Afghanistan in the fall to observe first-hand how that transition is proceeding and whether the U.S. and its NATO allies are providing the necessary support and training.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers, understandably concerned about corruption, have responded by voting to block all civilian aid to Afghanistan, which could seriously jeopardize those efforts and the United States' long term goals.
When the firestorm over the latest Wikileaks document dump dies down, let's hope that a responsible transition strategy remains standing.