The Washington news cycle will be dominated for the next few days by the Wikileaks document drop as the journalistic herd pores over the 92,000 mostly classified reports that went up on the Wikileaks site yesterday and provided to some media outlets weeks ago. Keep in mind, these are mostly tactical level SIGACT (significant action) reports, and thus present a very narrow, tactical level view of the war.
The media’s frenzied reporting on some of what is contained in those reports has already veered into the sensational and the incorrect. An example comes from The New York Times, one of those, along with the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, provided the archive in advance by Wikileaks.
The NYT says Afghan incident reports show that the Taliban have used portable-heat seeking missiles (IR-MANPADS) against U.S. and NATO helicopters, a fact, the Times says, that the military has not publicly disclosed.
“The Taliban’s use of heat-seeking missiles has not been publicly disclosed — indeed, the military has issued statements that these internal records contradict.
In the form known as a Stinger, such weapons were provided to a previous generation of Afghan insurgents by the United States, and helped drive out the Soviets. The reports suggest that the Taliban’s use of these missiles has been neither common nor especially effective; usually the missiles missed.”
Yet, during an April 2009 conference call with reporters and bloggers, Lt. Gen. Gary North, U.S. Air Forces Central Commander, acknowledged that the Taliban do in fact use IR MANPADs (heat-seeking, shoulder fired missiles) in response to a reporter’s question on the subject. Here’s what North said:
“We do see, particularly in our rotor force, RPG-7s fired, of course, unguided. We see occasionally the SA- 7 type handheld IRSAM. Every aircraft in our tactical lift and our rotor type helicopters have got defensive measures capability and our intelligence is very good and so our aviators going out are armed with the latest intelligence and the best in technology for IR missile defeat and so we’re very comfortable with the technology, the capabilities, and as you know, aviators, both rotor and fixed, have to keep their head on a swivel because it is dangerous out there on occasion.”
— Greg Grant