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Wikileaks reveals awkward truths

Mark Mardell | 17:39 UK time, Monday, 26 July 2010

The scale is breathtaking. This is isn't a leak, it is a haemorrhage. Some 92,201 secret documents posted on the internet, snapshots from a messy war, the biggest such breach since the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000 pages that arguably changed the course of American involvement in Vietnam.

The leak of the internet age is not likely to have that sort of impact. The Pentagon papers revealed lies. These detailed logs confirm a truth that has been long suspected.

The White House has reacted with predictable fury. Its national security adviser, Jim Jones, has said the leak threatens America and the lives of US troops and their allies. But he is also quick to point out that the documents are from between 2004 and the end of last year. For most of that time, President George W Bush was in charge, the rest was before President Barack Obama's new strategy could take effect.

Only the news that the Taliban are using surface to air missiles is brand new. The often terse reports filled with military acronyms - "TF 733 conducted an air assault insertion to assault obj" ..."rcp hit an ied near the village" - are like thousands of pixels that build into a clear picture: one familiar to most who've been closely observing the conflict. It suggests a war conducted by secret forces, dogged by the behaviour of Pakistani intelligence, marred by constant civilian casualties, where anything resembling victory is elusive.

The danger for the administration is the judgment of pessimists that not much has changed since the huge increase in troops, that if reports from 2010 were included the new pixels wouldn't dramatically alter the picture.

The Democratic House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton has released a statement saying: "These leaked reports pre-date our new strategy in Afghanistan and should not be used as a measure of success or a determining factor in our continued mission there."

He adds: "It is critical that we not use outdated reports to paint a picture of the co-operation of Pakistan in our efforts in Afghanistan. Since these reports were issued, Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban, including efforts that led to the capture of the highest-ranking member of the Taliban since the start of the war."

This is fair enough as far as it goes. We can't make a complete judgment on a very fluid situation based on reports from the past five years. But it is also fair enough to ask if much has really changed and, critically, whether the politicians are giving it enough time to change.

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