WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange arrived too late if he really meant the 91,000 classified US military documents he released this week to – with another 15,000 sensitive files in store – to change the face of the war in Afghanistan and manipulate President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus into embarking on a new strategy.
His explanation – "The war in Afghanistan seems to be slowly turning into something that is not about defense. It's an ongoing mire for all parties" – was left standing by events.
More than a month ago, precisely for that reason, President Obama secretly switched course and launched a new war strategy, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources disclose.
On Tuesday, July 27, the president said, "Indeed they (the leaked documents) point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall." But he did not reveal that in June, the new policy he unveiled last December had undergone a tidal change.
The US president appreciated that the nine-year conflict had passed its peak and was winding its way toward closure – barring unforeseen events, such as the sudden collapse of the Taliban, a decisive American victory, or a successful insurgent grab for Kabul. After coming to terms with the unfeasibility of an American victory, he set about charting the quickest and cleanest exit route for the US troops fighting there.
This could not happen quickly. Our military and intelligence sources see a staged process of two years or more, starting with the departure of allied troops and possibly culminating at the moment Obama is faced with deciding whether to run for a second term as president.
Meanwhile, Taliban may have started on its comeback.
The Saudis take the wheel
Weeks ahead – and irrespective of – the leak of military documents, the Saudis were able to draw the US president into his policy turnabout.
On June 29, Saudi King Abdullah was received at the White House and obtained Obama's final endorsement for the new diplomatic offensive the monarch had authored for redesigning a large swathe of geopolitical territory and applying new approaches to the flashpoints in Afghanistan to the north, Iraq to the east and Syria and Lebanon in the west.
For Afghanistan, his plan envisions a Saudi-Pakistani-Afghan alliance funded from Riyadh and the Gulf emirates to broker a power-sharing deal between the Taliban's Mullah Omar and President Hamid Karzai.
If the two cannot agree on terms, the Saudis and Pakistanis will find another way to restore Taliban to government in Kabul.
Even more than the general's indiscreet remarks to Rolling Stone magazine, this scheme led to the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as NATO commander in Afghanistan on June 23, less than a week before Obama approved the Saudi plan.
The US president saw that to end the war quickly, he needed a soldier-diplomat of the caliber of Gen. David Petraeus at the helm in the Afghanistan rather than a war commander.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Kayani is Riyadh's key to Taliban
And in Islamabad, the Obama administration leaned hard on the Pakistani government to overcome its reluctance to extending the term of Pakistani Army Commander Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for another three years.
Gen. Kayani is the linchpin of Abdullah's grand design.
The Saudi king and President Obama agreed that his connections with the Taliban were a vital key for ending the war smoothly and by common consent.
But he, too, needs time.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts believe that, well before Kayani's extended term is up, it will be clear whether or not Obama's gamble on the Saudi plan for Afghanistan has paid off, hopefully in time for the next presidential election.
With all these undercurrents in full spate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the tens of thousands of US army documents leaked to WikiLeaks will hardly raise a ripple in the next phase of the conflict.
So what was the point of leaking them? This will become apparent in the next article in this issue.