The posting of over 90,000 classified US government documents by Wikileaks has raised fresh questions about the US strategy in Afghanistan. Leaking of classified information, particularly on this scale, has the potential to damage US national security interests and in general should be discouraged. Much of the information from the classified US government documents released over the weekend by Wikileaks was already known to those observing the war over the last nine years. The challenges the US faces in fighting a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan and in obtaining full Pakistani cooperation in this effort have been well-documented in the media over the last several years.
Indeed some of the challenges the documents point to, such as high Afghan civilian casualties, have been rectified in the new counterinsurgency strategy first introduced in August 2009 by General McChrystal and now being implemented by General Petraeus. Thus the Wikileaks expose should not be used to argue that the US strategy in Afghanistan is doomed to failure. The US strategy in Afghanistan has been refined over the last year and new US troops and civilian resources are pouring into the country. The new counterinsurgency strategy is sound and should be given time to succeed.
The leaked documents do reveal a level of US frustration with Pakistan’s dual policy of fighting some extremists while harboring others that is not always apparent in US official statements praising Pakistan as a steadfast ally in the war on terrorism. Given the continuing challenges posed by Pakistan’s ambiguous policy toward terrorism in the region, the Obama administration must consider carefully whether its current Pakistan policy is providing sufficient dividends or whether it needs to be recalibrated in ways that convince the Pakistanis to shift their strategy toward the Taliban in more fundamental ways.