Wikileaks has provided access to 91,370 files of formerly secret archives recording the actions of U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan to three news organizations, The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel. All three are in the midst of publishing their own analysis of these files and the full release is now available on Wikileaks.
An interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange about this unprecendented disclosure of the real story of the war since 2004 can be found here and later will be on a new website here (update: this site is now live and has all the information).
The reports cover most units from the US Army with the exception of most US Special Forces’ activities. The reports do not generally cover top-secret operations or European and other ISAF Forces operations.
We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.
Needless to say, the White House is not happy about this sudden sunlight on the continuing American occupation.
At first glance, the reports included in these files will not be a surprise to readers here since we have been recounting the persistence of unjustified attacks on civilians and the callous response of U.S. and ISAF command for years — but these new accounts are so very disturbing and the breadth of detailed information this release provides is astonishing.
Highlighted in this afternoon’s coverage are the activities of U.S. Special Ops unit, Task Force 373 which The Guardian describes as a “secret ‘black’ unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for ‘kill or capture’ without trial.” It’s been known for quite a while that at least one Special Forces unit had been involved in many of the worst civilian massacres but these files begin to uncover the full story.
Der Spiegel includes the following example of their work:
A report on June 17, 2007, for example, includes a warning in the second sentence that this operation of the TF 373 must be “kept protected.” Details about the mission could not be provided to other countries contributing to the ISAF forces.
The aim was to kill prominent al-Qaida functionary Abu Layth Al Libi. The special forces suspected that the top terrorist and several of his followers were present at a Koran school the soldiers had been staking out for a number of days.
But after the impact of five American rockets, instead of finding Al Libi, the ground forces discovered six dead children in the rubble of the school. A further seriously injured child was also found but could not be saved.
And The Guardian has this on TF373:
On the night of Monday 11 June 2007, the leaked logs reveal, the taskforce set out with Afghan special forces to capture or kill a Taliban commander named Qarl Ur-Rahman in a valley near Jalalabad. As they approached the target in the darkness, somebody shone a torch on them. A firefight developed, and the taskforce called in an AC-130 gunship, which strafed the area with cannon fire: “The original mission was aborted and TF 373 broke contact and returned to base. Follow-up Report: 7 x ANP KIA, 4 x WIA.” In plain language: they discovered that the people they had been shooting in the dark were Afghan police officers, seven of whom were now dead and four wounded.
The coalition put out a press release which referred to the firefight and the air support and then failed entirely to record that they had just killed or wounded 11 police officers.
Given the size of the original files, it will take a long time to uncover all the information they make available but The Guardian has created a file of 300 incidents they believe are “key” and you can access that here.
Similar to the information we’ve had from the ACLU about condolence payments, we learn that in Afghanistan, the going rate for a dead civilian is “100,000 Afghani per corpse, equivalent to about £1,500.” and there are so very many civilians killed, most previously unreported by US forces:
Patrolling on foot, a Kentucky-based squad from 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, known as “Red Currahee”, decided to flag down the approaching bus, so their patrol could cross the road. Before sunrise, a soldier stepped out on to Afghanistan’s main highway and raised both hands in the air.
When the bus failed to slow – travellers are often wary of being flagged down in Afghanistan’s bandit lands – a trooper raked it with machine-gun fire. They killed four passengers and wounded 11 others.
The files have so much more – with more stories like the following coming to light:
In another case the logs show that on the night of 30 August 2008, a US special forces squad called Scorpion 26 blasted Helmand positions with multiple rockets, and called in an airstrike to drop a 500lb bomb. All that was officially logged was that 24 Taliban had been killed.
But writer Patrick Bishop was embedded in the valley nearby with British paratroops at their Sangin bases. He recorded independently: “Overnight, the question of civilian casualties took on an extra urgency. An American team had been inserted on to Black Mountain … From there, they launched a series of offensive operations. On 30 August, wounded civilians, some of them badly injured, turned up at Sangin and FOB Inkerman saying they had been attacked by foreign troops. Such incidents gave a hollow ring to ISAF claims that their presence would bring security to the local population.”
The Guardian references changes to the Rules of Engagement under Gen McChrystal leading to some changes in how civilian casualties were treated though the only actual change them mention is a “new “information requirement” to record each ‘credible allegation of Isaf [the occupying forces] … causing non-combatant injury/death’.”
And they go on to note that:
McChrystal was replaced last month, however, by General David Petraeus, amid reports that restraints aimed at cutting civilian deaths would be loosened once again.
That loosening may have already occurred as the BBC reports today that it looks like 45 civilians were killed in Joshani on Friday. ISAF has been claiming to know nothing about this event but a BBC reporter was nearby and has spoken to witnesses:
Witnesses said the attack had come in daylight as dozens sheltered from fighting in nearby Joshani.Mohammed Khan, a boy aged about 16, said helicopters had circled over the village before the incident. He said that he had warned other children to take cover.
But his mother told him not to worry them. He went further away and was shielded by a wall that saved his life when the attack started.
“I heard the sound of the rocket land on our house. I rushed in screaming with my father and saw bodies lying in the dust… I found I was even standing on a dead body.”
One of the bodies was his brother.
“He had been lying asleep in the afternoon when they were killed,” Mohammed said.
After the attack relatives and neighbours came to assist in digging out the dead and taking the injured to hospital.
Sher Mohammed said that the owner of the house had been his cousin. He said it had taken until late into the night to dig out the bodies. Rescuers buried 39 and believed six were left under the rubble, he added.