The Pentagon leak can make a fine case study Apextalk

Just ahead of Ukraine’s much-anticipated ‘spring offensive’ against Russia, a clutch of secret documents leaked online has given us what looks like a sneak peek at the US Pentagon’s view of the war in Europe. Since the US relaxed its secrecy for wider sharing of espionage inputs after 9/11 plans slipped past its spies, such a leak is perfectly plausible (recall WikiLeaks). And since the US has ordered a probe plus damage review, these files have acquired an air of authenticity, although the leak’s origin is yet to be traced more than a month after the stash emerged on Discord and Telegram chat forums before being spotted by Western media. Kyiv called it a red herring, a Russian ploy to mislead the West, but was also suspected of anxiety (and altering plans on the sly). Some war bloggers also identified this lot of Pentagon papers as a weapon of mass deception, but one aimed at Moscow instead. On its part, the Kremlin used the leak’s news to score an old point: “We don’t have the slightest doubt about direct or indirect involvement of the United States and Nato in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.” All that’s clear from this haze is the rising role of information in 21st century warfare.

The documents in focus are dated from mid-February to early March. Although anyone looking them up to catch the Pentagon playing closet commander of Nato forces is likely to be disappointed, they do appear to have this war theatre mapped out in detail. Estimates marked “low confidence” put Russian losses at 189,500-223,000 soldiers killed or wounded, with Ukraine’s placed in a range of 124,500-131,000. Other intelligence reports speak of gaps in Ukrainian weaponry, especially its air defences after their recent battery by Russian drone and missile strikes, and of dangers in Ukraine’s east, where a slow battle of attrition is seen headed for a stalemate. While the leaked files are also reported to have revealed some of Kyiv’s army formations and arms inventory, right down to daily ammo use, what has wowed and worried many reviewers is how closely US spooks may have bugged Russia’s war machine. The trove has enough on enemy troop movements, intercepted attack targets and battle strategies to suggest an active network of eyes and ears run by America. As some of these printouts are reported to bear code marks that might identify sources (something even journalists aren’t so careless about), the Western worry is whether US spies will now get caught and valuable tip-offs be cut off. This particular risk, along with a few feathers of allies ruffled by other leaked portions, has tilted much opinion in the West against the leak being an American ruse.

Yet, no major disaster has befallen Nato so far that we know of. Even Moscow has not picked on anything to call the US-led alliance out as a hostile combatant. One document refers to almost 100 Nato special-force personnel in Ukraine, but these could just be trainers. At this stage, it would be best for neutral analysts to resist hasty conclusions and study the files for what they say about reliance on hot information for modern-day combat. After all, sitting atop an information asymmetry can overcome an adverse stack-up of military hardware. This effect may well have sharpened. Ukraine’s stout resistance to Russia can be attributed to grit, guns and a data advantage—with satellite internet links chipping in—for strategy. Whether or not the latest leak constitutes a salvo, we may never find out. Either way, it looks like a case study fit for the Indian Military Academy.

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