Reporters, bloggers, and other interested individuals are still combing through the more than 90,000 Afghanistan War documents released by WikiLeaks. And while commentators can't agree on whether there's much new or important in the massive document dump, the data miners are certainly uncovering some surprises. Here are seven of the oddest finds, so far: (Watch the WikiLeaks founder defend the document release)
1. Afghan soldiers are killing each other in drug-fueled, fratricidal skirmishes
The WikiLeaks dump includes reports of more than 60 clashes between members of the Afghan security forces. The sometimes-deadly incidents were often fueled by drugs. In one fatal gunfight among Afghan Border Police, "a significant proportion" were "high on opium and having a party." In another incident, a National Police officer shot at National Army troops who caught him smoking hashish in the shower.
2. The U.S. is buying good press?
The leaks contain "intriguing evidence" that the U.S. military is "paying local media outlets to run friendly stories," says John Cook in Yahoo's The Upshot blog. Having U.S. psychological operations units plant positive stories with friendly or compliant radio stations and newspapers has proved a PR "headache for the Pentagon" in Iraq — but it doesn't, apparently, violate military policy or U.S. law.
3. Taliban may have chemical weapons
A February 2009 report ominously suggests that the Taliban could have developed chemical weapons: A special operations unit pursuing insurgents found and detonated an improvised explosive device, when "a yellow cloud was emitted and personnel began feeling nauseous." The report doesn't say if the powder was discovered to be a chemical attack — "I suspect it wasn't," says Wired's Noah Shachtman — but none of he nauseated troops (or the sickened dog) died.
4. Bin Laden was alive in 2006, dead in 2007?
The WikiLeaks documents record only a few references to Osama Bin Laden, including an August 2006 report that Bin Laden and Taliban commander Mullah Omar were at a meeting in Quetta, right across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and a sketchy June 2007 single-source report from Afghan intelligence that Bin Laden "had been transported to Peshawar hospital in Pakistan for treatment, where he has died."
5. U.S. forces have a new favorite weapon
The incident reports are full of stories of the U.S. chasing down and killing Taliban fighters with unmanned Reaper aerial drones, flown by joystick-wielding pilots in a Nevada bunker. The Reapers are "increasingly the coalition's weapon of choice against the Taliban," say Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian. But they're not cheap: $13 million each, plus $100,000 for each of its Hellfire missiles seems an "extraordinary amount of cash" to routinely spend "to try to kill a single insurgent."
6. The Taliban pays better than the U.S.
One of the WikiLeaks documents, from February 2008, describes how a Taliban leader offered an Afghan National Army brigade commander $100,000 to quit, dwarfing the $805 a month that an officer of his rank would pull in after 24 years of service. "That should give a sense of what the incentive structure is for Afghans," says Spencer Ackerman in Wired, and the pay disparity is widespread. It's hard to recruit competent men if the Taliban is "shelling out more money for their fighters than the U.S. and the international community are for Afghan security forces."
7. The Taliban tried to poison U.S. troops' beer
Among the "range of sensational plots" allegedly hatched by colluding Taliban and Pakistani intelligence agents was one to poison the beer headed to Western troops, says Wired's Shachtman, citing a June 2007 tip. The Taliban apparently hoped to hijack U.S.-bound supply trucks, and "inject the bottles or the packages of food with unidentified chemicals." U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith notes in The Guardian that a "plot to poison Kabul-bound beer" would be "an enormously complex operation with limited payoff since U.S. troops are not allowed to drink alcohol in Afghanistan."