Security: unclassified – level 3 AFGHANISTAN NEWS BULLETIN Afghanistan News 10/22/2010 – Bulletin # 2652 Compiled by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Canada www.afghanemb-canada.net email:email@example.com In This Bulletin: In The Shadow of the Taliban, Afghanistan's Mining Sector Is Open for Business US to up Pakistani military aid by $2B Afghan insurgents say "no hope" for peace talks Afghan peace council wants Saudi Arabia's help Afghan rebels on back foot like "never before": NATO Rogue security companies threaten US gains in Afghanistan war WikiLeaks near release of secret US war documents Afghanistan Today [Disclaimer: The content of this news bulletin does not necessarily reflect the view or policy of the Afghan Government, unless specifically stated as such. The collection of articles and commentaries from Afghan and international news sources is provided for informational purposes, and accuracy of the news is the responsibility of the original source.] In The Shadow of the Taliban, Afghanistan's Mining Sector Is Open for Business Forbes, Megha Bahree, Oct. 21 2010-Afghanistan is well known for its mineral wealth. Copper, iron ore, coal and natural gas are all there in abundance. But only for the intrepid investor who is willing to risk the Taliban and the shaky government and make the heavy investments required. State owned Metallurgical Corporation of China is currently developing the Aynak copper project, one of the biggest untapped copper deposits in the world. At the time that MCC won the contract, there were mutterings of corruption behind that decision. Now Afghanistan's minister of mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, is inviting companies to bid on the Hajigak iron deposit which is spread across Bamiyan, Parwan and Wardak provinces. With the reserves estimated to be worth $350 billion, it would be a rich catch. Minister Shahrani, on a recent trip to New York, gives an update. Edited excerpts: Forbes: The Aynak project had allegations of corruption. How is Hajigak going to be different? Shahrani: There was a lengthy bidding process for Aynak for which the government received support from the World Bank. We recognize there have been reported allegations. But the process was very transparent and MCC was the clear winner. Companies' bids are public for everyone to see. The process for awarding the Hajigak deposit will be transparent and open. Forbes: How safe is it to invest in Afghanistan? Shahrani: Regarding the security of contract, the minerals law in Afghanistan provides a clear legal basis for a mineral right. It allows the repatriation of capital and there are no foreign exchange restrictions. Afghanistan also has a new law on private investment which encourages and protects private investment. Forbes: And what about the physical security? Shahrani: The international coalition has been instrumental in building Afghanistan's security institutions as well as fighting the extreme elements of the Taliban. Additionally, efforts to reach a political solution are likely and will help us achieve long term security. But not all of Afghanistan is unsafe. The area around the Hajigak deposit is very safe. The government is also setting up a Mines Protection Unit which would provide security to companies coming in for exploration and mining. Forbes: What is going on with negotiations with the Taliban? Shahrani: The Karzai government called for a grand assembly in June and discussed with all the elements. They will be integrated back into society. A 70-member high level commission has been appointed. The Taliban continues because of fear of their livelihood. We can train them and give them jobs. There will be a small hard core extremist group and it might be difficult to reintegrate them. Forbes: Has there been any progress on developing infrastructure so that these deposits can be moved? Shahrani: MCC will build a huge rail corridor and once that is up we can transport the iron ore. These will be national and regional resource corridors and will integrate all the major infrastructure projects with the ADB, EU, World Bank, the Japanese and will link them with the major mineral deposits. And then we will tender each project one by one. This will give confidence to investors as well. Forbes: Which projects are you planning to tender first? Shahrani: We will tender a gold deposit early next year and that's because of the high price for gold right now.The oil market is doing well so we will tender in November a small oil field called Kashkasi and another in the Mazar-e-Sharif oil block in early 2011. We will tender next year the exploration for the Balkhab copper mine to determine its reserves. This is not too far from Mazar-e-Sharif and can be accessed by rail. Forbes: What is the status of the rail corridor? Shahrani: We are working with bilateral and multi-lateral partners to develop the rail network. One rail corridor will run from Afghanistan to Pakistan and via Mazar-i- Sharif to Turkmenistan; another route will link Kandahar to Chaman in Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan. Forbes: Is there any part of this that's up and running? Shahrani: Right now we have up the railway line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif, which is a big commercial center. This 75 km long railway line cost $175 million and was funded by the ADB. Next phase will be from Afghanistan to the Turkmenistan border. This is 257kms and will take three years and we expect the tenders out by early next year. Apart from this, MCC is also constructing a 921km long railway line that will link Kabul with Turkmenistan, Pakistan, central highland to Mazar-i-sharif. US to up Pakistani military aid by $2B The Associated Press, 10/22/2010-The Obama administration is laying out a new multiyear, multibillion-dollar military aid package for Pakistan as it presses the Islamabad government to step up the fight against extremists there and in neighboring Afghanistan, U.S. officials say. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were to unveil the plan Friday at the end of the latest round of high-level U.S.-Pakistani strategic talks here, the officials said. The money will be provided over the next five years under the State Department's Foreign Military Financing program that funds other countries' purchases of U.S.- made arms, ammunition and accessories, the officials said. Precise details of what Pakistan will receive under the program were still being determined, they said. The officials would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, which the administration hoped would reassure Pakistan of the long- term U.S. commitment to Pakistan's military needs and help it bolster its efforts to go after Taliban and al-Qaida affiliates on its territory. The new aid package will not benefit Pakistani military units suspected of human rights abuses. The Obama administration already has cut off aid to some Pakistani units over concerns they may have been involved in abuses that include extrajudicial killings and torture, a senior U.S. official said late Thursday. The official said aid to a handful of Pakistani units believed to have committed, encouraged or tolerated abuses were suspended under 1997 legislation championed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The so-called Leahy Amendment bars U.S. military assistance from going to foreign armed forces suspected of committing atrocities. "In accordance with the Leahy Amendment, we have withheld assistance from a small number of units linked to gross human rights violations," the official said. "At the same time, we have encouraged Pakistan to improve its human rights training, and it is taking steps in that direction." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. It was not immediately clear when the decision to withhold the assistance was first taken or exactly how many Pakistani military units were affected. Halting assistance to certain units will not affect broader U.S. support for Pakistan's military, which is considered key to counterterrorism efforts in the region. The new military aid replaces a similar but less valuable package that began in 2005 and expired on Oct. 1 that the Pakistanis have been keen to renew. It also complements $7.5 billion in civilian assistance the administration has already committed to Pakistan over five years, some of which has been diverted to help the country deal with devastating floods. Although the exact terms of the deal are still being negotiated, the goal is to ramp up U.S. military aid to Pakistan incrementally over the five-year period, from $300 million next year, to $350 million in 2012 until the $2 billion is met, officials said. The previous agreement was for about $500 million less, they said. State Department officials have declined to discuss the specifics of the new program although they have acknowledged it is being negotiated. On Tuesday, Frank Ruggiero, the U.S. deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters there was a fresh "need for a multiyear planning process for Pakistani security assistance." This week's talks in Washington — the third round of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue — come as the countries try to ease tensions over American military incursions across the border from Afghanistan and allegations that Islamabad is not doing enough to target Taliban militants. The U.S. has signaled that its patience is running out with Islamabad's reluctance to fight insurgents, a stance that has not changed despite billions of dollars in American aid. During the last round in Islamabad in July, Clinton announced more than $500 million in aid for a variety of projects, including renovating hospitals, improving water distribution and upgrading hydroelectric dams. The U.S. had to re-examine its plans after the meeting, however, after Pakistan was hit by the worst floods in the country's history. Afghan insurgents say "no hope" for peace talks Reuters, 10/22/2010- Mid-level Taliban insurgency commanders do not believe their leaders have begun tentative peace talks with the Afghan government, with many vowing on Friday not to give up the fight after nearly 10 years of war. NATO and Afghan officials have confirmed preliminary contacts between President Hamid Karzai's government and the Taliban, although doubt surrounds when those contacts were made, who they were made with and what, if any, progress was made. Karzai is pushing a negotiated settlement to the conflict and has launched a High Peace Council which has said it is prepared to offer concessions to bring insurgents to the table, although Kabul and Washington are adamant they must renounce violence. However, insurgency commanders from across Afghanistan indicated they were not involved in the initial contacts. "No one has come so far and sat with the government and there is no hope that the Taliban will come and negotiate with the government," said Abdullah Nasrat, the Taliban commander for Girishk district in southern Helmand province, one of the Taliban's traditional strongholds. Girishk is in the strategically important Helmand River valley, along which mainly U.S. and British forces launched a series of offensives last year. "We basically hear the reports of talks through the press and do not believe in them," Nasrat told Reuters by telephone. "As long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan, there will be no talks. Our morale is high." Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.- backed Afghan forces in late 2001. Record civilian and military casualties -- and the possibility of peace talks -- will weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama when he conducts a strategy review of the Afghan war in December. It will also be a central part of discussions at a NATO summit in Lisbon next month. The New York Times newspaper on Wednesday quoted an unidentified Afghan source as saying Taliban leaders from the "Quetta shura" -- the leadership of the Afghan Taliban who are based in Pakistan -- and one member of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network had taken part in "extensive" talks. Salahuddin Ayoubi, a senior commander for the Haqqani network's Sirajuddin Haqqani, accused U.S. General David Petraeus, the commander of the almost 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, of trying to drive a wedge through the insurgency. "These (reports) are part of a drama of General Petraeus, who from one side has stepped up the military operations and from other side wants to confuse the minds of the mujahideen by talking about talks," Ayoubi told Reuters. "There has been no let up in our activities and we have not been told by our leaders to reduce or halt our operations for any reason," he said. Ayoubi also said reports earlier this year that Sirajuddin Haqqani's brother had taken part in talks were untrue. The Haqqani network has been very active in the east and southeast over the past year and have been blamed for brazen suicide attacks on government targets and foreign troops. "NO AUTHORITY" Similar sentiments were expressed across the country. "Karzai has no authority for making peace and cannot do anything without the order of the foreigners. I do not believe in the reports of the talks," said Feda Mohammad, a Taliban commander in northwest Badghis province. Commanders for Hezb-i-Islami, run by veteran fighter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Haqqani network in southeastern Khost and Paktia provinces near the Pakistan border also said they would continue fighting. In Kunduz province, which the Taliban have been using as a staging point for increasing attacks in the north and northeast, deputy governor Hamidullah Danesh said he doubted the reports of talks would have much impact on the Taliban insurgency. However some criminal gangs, including about 60 members of one group, had surrendered in recent weeks, encouraged by government reconciliation efforts and in fear of increased military operations by NATO-led forces. The High Peace Council said on Thursday it would be willing to make concessions to bring insurgents to the negotiating table, including jobs, homes and cash. It also called for Saudi Arabia's help in future talks, although there has been no response yet from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia sponsored secret, but inconclusive, talks last year and has acted as an interlocutor in the past. Kabul and Washington have long urged that insurgents must first renounce violence and links to al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution as a precondition for talks. The Taliban reiterates its main plank, that all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan before talks could be possible. Afghan peace council wants Saudi Arabia's help The Associated Press, 10/21/2010-The Afghan government's newly formed peace council wants Saudi Arabia to play a key role in efforts to reconcile with the Taliban and find a political resolution to the war. Qiyamuddin Kashaaf, spokesman for the 70-member High Peace Council, said Thursday that Saudi Arabia would be a good place to hold any formal peace talks that develop from exploratory discussions the Afghan government is having with some high-ranking members of the Taliban. He says that if peace negotiations in Afghanistan are not successful, Saudi King Abdullah should intervene and take a leadership role in fostering talks. Saudi Arabia once had close ties to the Taliban government that emerged victorious from Afghanistan's civil war in the early 1990s. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A military offensive in southern Afghanistan is chasing the Taliban out of their stronghold in Kandahar province, the Afghan president's half brother said. "Most of them I believe left before the military operation started," Ahmed Wali Karzai told The Associated Press late Wednesday. "They are running ... I don't know (where)." NATO and Afghan forces began an operation to wrest control of Kandahar province in July, an attempt to regain the initiative in the nine-year war by taking the battle to the heartland of the insurgency along the Pakistani border. "Things are changing very well. There's a lot of progress in security ... Some (Taliban) were arrested. Some were killed," said Karzai. "There's no single Taliban base in Kandahar province right now." That claim could not be immediately verified. Karzai heads a provincial council in Kandahar and says government officials are moving in to set up institutions in areas cleared of Taliban by security forces. Improving residents' quality of life is crucial to winning long-term popular support and maintaining control of territory. In Kandahar city, one resident said people were less afraid now to turn in information about insurgents. "The Taliban are weak now and people are not so afraid of them, so now people can help the government," said Salam Bacha Barakzai, a 41-year-old teacher. "You can see that Taliban are being arrested everywhere. That's because the people are helping." The operation began by setting up checkpoints in the city of Kandahar. Then extra NATO and Afghan forces, including specialized paramilitary police, flooded into the city and eventually began moving into neighboring Arghandab district to the north. The fertile valley is a breadbasket for the area. Afghan and NATO forces are now moving into the volatile districts of Zhari and Panjwai, trying to consolidate their gains. It's been unclear over the past few months how effective the southern offensive has been. Residents have reported pockets of stability, but insurgents continue to target government officials and in Arghandab the government had difficulty setting up a civilian administration despite NATO backing. A similar operation to the Kandahar offensive began in February in the southern, poppy-producing hub of Marjah but it has so far failed to pacify the area, in part because the military push was not backed by an effective civilian expansion. The Afghan government is widely considered to be weak and corrupt and many people in the provinces only experience it through the country's predatory police force, notorious for drug use and bribe-taking. As the southern offensive progressed, insurgents have increased attacks against coalition forces in the north, which was previously considered relatively stable and free from Taliban influence. Some fear they will simply bide their time and return to the south if NATO forces begin withdrawing. The ability of NATO and Afghan forces to take and hold the southern provinces — and the Afghan government's ability to win them over — is a key test of U.S. President Barack Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. The "surge" is supposed to seize the initiative from a steadily growing insurgent alliance, forcing factions of the Taliban to consider peace talks and a political settlement. In an unrelated incident, NATO said a force member was killed following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, bringing to 48 the number of NATO troops killed so far this month. No further details were provided about the incident. Also in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said 17 senior insurgent fighters were captured or killed between Oct. 12 and Oct. 18. In western Paktika province, NATO confirmed Thursday that a man killed in an overnight operation Tuesday was a leader of the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Taliban faction closely tied to al-Qaida. The deputy governor of the province, Juma Mohammedi, said the man led a force of around 20 men. Afghan rebels on back foot like "never before": NATO BERLIN (Reuters) - Rebel forces in Afghanistan have been forced onto the back foot and are now under more pressure than they have ever been, NATO Secretary- General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Rasmussen said NATO was looking forward to handing principle responsibility for security in Afghanistan to local forces from next year, and that the timing for this looked good. "The insurgency is under pressure, under pressure like never before in Afghanistan. Our aim for this year was to regain the momentum," Rasmussen told a news conference. "Now we have it." Rasmussen and Merkel said a meeting on November 19-20 in Lisbon -- where NATO will unveil a new strategic plan for the military alliance -- had been at the forefront of their talks. A revamped NATO would remain the "bedrock of transatlantic security," the secretary general said, adding "I believe that that will include missile defense for Europe." He said he hoped NATO heads of government would in Lisbon agree to build a system to protect Europe against missile attack, adding that he hoped this would "go together with a clear offer to Russia to cooperate and to benefit." Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, said he wanted NATO to step up cooperation with Russia on missile defense and Afghanistan. Russia is due to attend the Lisbon summit. "These relations (with Russia) have already improved substantially from where they were a year ago," he said. "I think we can lay the foundation for a long-term strategic partnership between NATO and Russia." Rasmussen reiterated his desire to see NATO become a forum for consultation on international security matters. "Who would suffer if our partners in Europe, central Asia, north Africa and the Middle East were to deepen their cooperation with NATO?," he said at a separate event in Berlin. "Who stands to lose if countries such as China, India and Pakistan were to engage in a closer dialogue with NATO?" Rogue security companies threaten US gains in Afghanistan war The Christian Science Monitor, 10/21/2010-Since its Revolutionary days, the American military has been no stranger to the use of paid help – from carpenters to ditch diggers – to wage war. By 1965 in Vietnam, the practice of relying on private defense companies became widespread enough within the Pentagon that Business Week dubbed it a "war by contract." In Afghanistan, the use of private contractors has reached record levels. A 2010 Congressional Research Service report found that they now make up 60 percent of the Defense Department's workforce. With fewer US soldiers than contractors throughout the war-torn country, the Pentagon is more dependent on private defense contractors than ever in its history. Contractors bring in fuel and food for American soldiers in Afghanistan along what many consider to be one of the most complex and treacherous supply chains in the history of modern warfare. They keep installations running, guard key NATO bases, and train Afghan police. Yet there is a growing chorus of warnings from both within the US military and on Capitol Hill that the Pentagon's dependence on contractors is undermining its own war efforts. A Senate Armed Services Committee investigation this month further concluded that the widespread use of contractors puts at risk the US exit strategy of training Afghan security forces – Afghan soldiers and police routinely leave the service to take more lucrative jobs with private defense companies. The Senate investigation also turned up mounting evidence to suggest that largely unmonitored Pentagon contracts with private security companies – half of which are Afghan-owned – may also be lining the pockets of Taliban insurgents who agree not to attack convoys in exchange for cash. "If you want to know the driving force of corruption in Afghanistan, it's not Afghan culture," warns Anthony Cordesman, a security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's American contracting." The Pentagon is beginning to grapple with the complexity of fixing what many now recognize as a deeply broken system. Though reforms are difficult to implement and come with their own risks, a failure to act now, say some US officials, may risk the entire US mission in Afghanistan. Some contracting problems have long been apparent to US officials. One of them is that some Defense Department contract money goes to warlords who run classic pay-for-protection rackets with their own private militias. What is also clear is that the attrition rate for legitimate Afghan security forces remains as high as 130 percent in some units. "We get them trained up and certified, and the contractors hire them for more money," says T.X. Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served in Iraq and is now a fellow with the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University. The delay in addressing a lack of oversight surrounding contractors who may also have ties to the Taliban has had consequences, Mr. Cordesman argues. The recent Senate Armed Services Committee report, for example, reflects concerns "that are seven or eight years old." Efforts to address them have been "extraordinarily slow" to take hold, he adds. "Time and again you have created risk to American soldiers. You have almost certainly caused Americans to be killed or wounded – and you have essentially strengthened the enemy." Without greater controls on contracting dollars, "you have created a threat that is almost as great as the insurgency," he says. "And that is a government that has so many forces corrupting it that it can't win the support of the people." The Pentagon is increasingly aware of this point and has begun to take a particularly hard look at its reliance on private security firms, which account for roughly 16 percent of all contractors, totaling more than 26,000 personnel operating in Afghanistan. "We have absolutely no quality control of the people we're putting in these jobs," says Mr. Hammes, who recently completed a study on the strategic impact of contractors in war zones. "And we're authorizing them to use deadly force in the name of the United States." Citing precisely this point, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced in August that he wants many private security companies – including Blackwater – out of the country by year's end. But the enforcement of this decree remains unclear. US officials, who continue to negotiate the matter behind the scenes, publicly say that while they agree with the spirit of the decree, the time line is unrealistic. Critics charge that it is an effort by Mr. Karzai tap into the profits of these lucrative companies by consolidating government control over them – a charge Karzai denies. For his part, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has recently issued a set of guidelines in an effort to improve the contracting process, recommending that the US military use its intelligence resources to investigate Afghan companies vying for Defense Department contracts. US military officials have also increased pay for Afghan security force trainees in an effort to compete with private security companies. Now they are wrestling with how to more effectively distribute troops to improve security along the highways. "You wouldn't spend the money to hire security along some of these roads if you didn't have to," says one senior US military official in Kabul who is not authorized to speak to the press. "That's one of the things we're looking at." The Pentagon has also begun relaxing "double dipping" prohibitions – in which Pentagon officials earning pensions after 20 years of service must give the pensions up in order to return to work – in hopes of deploying more contracting specialists to Afghanistan. "At a time when there's a real deficit of these guys in the theater, it could induce them to come to work," says Richard Fontaine, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "It's eminently sensible." More difficult will be making tough choices about which paid contractors pose long- term threats to the US mission. "I mean, paying the Taliban is a really bad idea, but if you stop paying them tomorrow, you put convoys at greater risk," says Mr. Fontaine. One widespread suggestion is to have senior US military officials making the decisions about which private security companies should be hired to do the jobs, rather than junior troops in charge of contracting. "It's one thing to say we shouldn't pay these guys protection money," Fontaine adds, "but the implications are something only someone at a high level can determine." "Let's not be childish about this – it's impossible to eliminate corruption," adds Cordesman. "But it is possible to put more pressure on warlords to be more effective and less corrupt." This might involve "shifting money to rivals to put pressure on them," he says. "Money is a tremendous tool as well as a corrupting force if you use it properly." Ultimately cutting off warlords may actually be feasible, given time. For now, that might mean having more patience with less-connected contractors. "You may not get the same speed of reaction you do if you contract with the enemy," says Cordesman, "but the lasting impact is to build up exactly the capabilities we want at the local level." WikiLeaks near release of secret US war documents Associated Press, 22 October 2010-The WikiLeaks website is poised to release what the Pentagon fears is the largest cache of secret U.S. documents in history — hundreds of thousands of intelligence reports that could amount to a classified history of the war in Iraq. U.S. officials condemned the move and said Friday they were racing to contain the damage from the imminent release, while NATO's top official told reporters he feared that lives could be put at risk by the mammoth disclosure. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any release would create "a very unfortunate situation." "I can't comment on the details of the exact impact on security, but in general I can tell you that such leaks ... may have a very negative security impact for people involved," he told reporters Friday in Berlin following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a posting to Twitter, the secret-spilling website said there would be a "major WikiLeaks announcement in Europe" at 0900 GMT (5 a.m. EDT) Saturday. The group has revealed almost nothing publicly about the nature of the announcement. A U.S. Defense Department spokesman, Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, echoed Rasmussen's stance, urging WikiLeaks to return the stolen material — some 400,000 secret files on Iraq that Pentagon officials believe someone slipped to the organization. "We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies," Lapan said. "By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us." In Baghdad, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, both declined to comment about the documents Friday night, saying they have not seen them yet. Meanwhile, a team of more than a hundred analysts from across the U.S. military, led by the Defense Intelligence Agency, has been combing through the Iraq documents they think will be released in anticipation of the leak. Called the Information Review Task Force, its analysts have pored over the documents and used word searches to try to pull out names and other issues that would be particularly sensitive, officials have said. The task force has informed U.S. Central Command of some of the names of Iraqis and allies and other information they believe might be released that could present a danger, officials have said. They noted that — unlike the WikiLeaks previous disclosure of some 77,000 documents from Afghanistan — in this case they had advance notice that names may be exposed. Once officials see what is publicly released, the command "can quickly push the information down" to forces in Iraq, Lapan said Friday in Washington. "Centcom can jump into action and take whatever mitigating steps" might be needed, he said. Throughout the conflict, the U.S. and its allies have relied heavily on Iraqis as translators and support workers, who were frequently targeted by insurgents. The Iraqis often hid their identities to avoid revealing their links to the Western forces and many emigrated to other nations to flee the threat of violence. While the latest WikiLeaks revelations may not change public perceptions of the Iraq war — it has been extremely unpopular in Europe and divides opinion in the United States — they could provide new insight about a conflict that seemed headed for success after the invasion in 2003 before descending into a yearslong, blood-soaked struggle. The documents could shed light on the root causes of the insurgency, for instance, or the growth of sectarian violence that blighted Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. It may also give a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the major episodes of the war — like the manhunt for insurgent chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or the killing of U.S. security contractors on March 31, 2004, by a mob in Fallujah, an incident that led to the U.S. assault on the Iraqi city. The release of the documents would come at a pivotal time for the U.S. in Iraq as the military prepares to withdraw all 50,000 remaining troops from the country by the end of next year, raising questions about the future of relations between the two countries. The U.S. military had as many as 170,000 troops in Iraq in 2007. Violence has declined sharply over the past two years, but near-daily bombings and shootings continue, casting doubt on the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the people. The situation has been exacerbated by growing frustration among the public over the failure of Iraqi politicians to unite and form a new government more than seven months after inconclusive parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is struggling to remain in power since his Shiite alliance narrowly lost the March 7 vote to a Sunni-backed bloc led by rival Ayad Allawi. Wikileaks' previous release in July of secret war documents from Iraq and Afghanistan outraged the Pentagon, which accused the group of being irresponsible. Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that leaks of this nature "may put soldiers as well as civilians at risk." It appears that those fears — which the military has invoked in its appeal to WikiLeaks and the media not to publish the documents — have yet to materialize. A Pentagon letter obtained by The Associated Press reported that no U.S. intelligence sources or practices were compromised by the Afghan war logs' disclosure. Still, the military feels any classified documents release can harm national security and raise fears for people who might consider cooperating with the U.S. in the future, Lapan said. Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2007-08, said the disclosures would be more worrisome if the U.S. were still fully engaged in combat in Iraq — but he still sees it as a major problem. "I'd really be worried if — as looks to be the case — you have Iraqi political figures named in a context or a connection that can make them politically and physically vulnerable to their adversaries," he told a conference Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "That has an utterly chilling effect on the willingness of political figures to talk to us — not just in Iraq but anywhere in the world," he said. Afghanistan Today The New York Times - Editorials & Opinion, October 21, 2010-Voters don't seem to be paying much attention to the war in Afghanistan and President Obama certainly isn't making it an issue. His administration is doubling down on the fight against the Taliban and showing mixed results. That may not sound like much, but even mixed results are an improvement over the utterly bleak situation of several months ago. President George W. Bush shortchanged the Afghan fight for seven years. We continue to wonder whether, at this late date, the United States can achieve even minimal success against the Taliban and their allies. The cost of the war is still rising. Nearly 600 coalition forces, including 400 Americans, have been killed there this year. Mr. Obama and his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, appear, finally, to be putting in place the pieces of a more coherent plan. With 30,000 more American troops in Afghanistan, attacks against insurgents on both sides of the border have intensified. The Times reported on Thursday that American and Afghan troops have forced many Taliban fighters to flee Kandahar, the country's second-largest city and the Taliban's spiritual base. Marja, where the first test of the new counterinsurgency strategy faltered badly last February, is somewhat better governed and more secure. To improve security in areas across the country without sufficient NATO and Afghan forces, General Petraeus has spearheaded an effort to create local police units to protect their villages against the Taliban. According to reports in The Times, President Hamid Karzai's government, with Washington's support, is also holding exploratory peace talks with high-level Taliban commanders. NATO has flown some of the commanders from their sanctuaries in Pakistan or cleared roads so they could make their way safely to Kabul. While the Americans are doing better tactically on the battlefield, the country is still up for grabs. The Taliban, which the United States thought it had defeated in 2001, has a history of falling back and living to fight another day. "They don't believe they are losing yet," one military official told us. And two of the most fundamental problems have yet to be addressed: the Afghan government's lack of credibility with many of its own people; and Pakistan's persistent double game, taking American aid while sheltering and abetting the Taliban. Mr. Karzai's government is rife with corruption, and he has either dragged his feet or blocked efforts to clean up things. His supporters committed vast fraud in last year's presidential election. We don't have a clear picture of who was behind the fraud in the recent parliamentary elections, but 1.3 million votes were invalidated. The new election commission, led by two Karzai appointees, seems to have done a more honest job than its predecessor in counting ballots. The Obama administration has yet to find a way to pressure or cajole Mr. Karzai into saving his own government. The same is true when it comes to Pakistan. The administration has sensibly dropped its reluctance about negotiations with the Taliban. But officials admit they don't know if the Taliban leaders involved are serious or have the power to make a deal. Kabul and Washington certainly should not lunge for a deal at any cost. Both must continue to insist that any Taliban leaders looking for a role in a postconflict government must agree to lay down their arms, accept the Afghan Constitution, including its protection of women's rights, and renounce Al Qaeda. Mr. Obama is to review his Afghanistan policy in December. He is unlikely to have a clear sense of whether it is really succeeding until next spring when fighting resumes after the winter hiatus. That is not long before he has promised to begin withdrawing American troops. Mixed results then certainly won't be enough.