The massive dump of U.S. military records relating to the war in Afghanistan confirms prior knowledge in some areas and shines light to other grim realities of aggressive war and occupation.
26 July 2010 | InfoShop News
It’s being compared to the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsburg. Sunday evening, the London Guardian, The New York Times (NYT) and German weekly Der Spiegel revealed WikiLeaks granted them access to over 90,000 U.S. military records spanning from 2004-09. The records were previously confidential and detail specific operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—the U.S.-led coalition with NATO occupying Afghanistan.
“The flurry of hastily written documents provide a disturbing, disorienting and often incoherent history of the U.S. war effort from 2004 through last December, when Obama announced his new strategy for the country,” Greg Jaffe and Peter Finn reported today at The Washington Post (WaPo), later adding: “In the near term, the Obama administration seems intent on casting the voluminous leak as old news and ignoring it. The Pentagon similarly played down the need for safeguards to prevent future leaks of classified material.”
The “Afghan War Diary” details the military whitewashing war crimes—some not previously reported—a recognition by the U.S. military of a Pakistan government element guiding the insurgency, extrajudicial assassination and kidnapping operations outside of ISAF command or legislative accountability, blatant disregards for human life by ISAF troops, an illegitimate Afghan government and insurgent deployment of weaponry possibly provided by the U.S. government when it created the Afghan mujahideen and Al Qaeda to combat the Soviet invasion during the 1980s.
It’s premature to determine the full extent of the logs’ contents or of any potential political fallout toward stimulating a change in public sentiment or war policy. The war and occupation has cost the lives of an estimated 2,400 civilians in 2009—according to the U.N., up from 2,118 in 2008—and almost 1,100 in the first six months of 2010, according to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, the BBC reported earlier this month. Almost 2,000 coalition troops have died, according to iCasualties, and $321bn has been spent by the U.S. government since 2001. “Afghanistan costs as much as 134 American Revolutions (inflation-adjusted),” Gus Lubin and Isabelle Schafer reported today at Business Insider.
“But here’s the thing, as NYT points out: war costs as a fraction of [gross domestic product] have generally decreased,” they added. “Therefore modern Americans are relatively indifferent to the military cash burn.”
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, responded to scrutiny yesterday, “Well, it’s a matter about whether the coercive power of the State should be used to stop people sharing information, who have no direct connection to the source of the information.”
‘Kill or capture’ ops
Most striking is the confirmation that covert ‘kill or capture’ operations have been a dominating tactic of the war and are escalating into the darkness, Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films highlighted yesterday at Democracy Now! after returning from a trip to Afghanistan, embedded with a division in the extended Marja Surge.
Task Force 373 (TF 373) is described by Spiegel as “a troop of U.S. elite soldiers that includes Navy Seals and members of the Delta Force, receive their orders directly from the Pentagon and are independent of the chain of command of the international ISAF Afghanistan security forces”.
One U.S. military record tell of five missiles fired at a school, killing seven children, in a failed assassination attempt of one suspected militant, Abu Laith al-Libi.
Another incident, David Leigh reported Sunday evening at the Guardian, was of a March 2007 attack by “a heavily armed squad from the C.I.A.” where agents raided a village and shot Shum Khan as he “ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces… out of fear and confusion”. Mr. Khan is deaf and unable to speak. He survived the shooting, but the Agency said the shooting was justified by the U.S. rules of engagement.
The report logs 144 incidents of violence against civilians in ISAF or “other government agency” attacks, including “a relentless catalogue of civilian shootings on nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops at checkpoints”. None are recognized as abusive uses of force in the records.
Whitewashing war crimes
“The leaked records support Amnesty International’s concerns about improper reporting of civilian casualties, a lack of investigations into casualties that are recorded, and poor coordination between different national forces about incidents and even over investigations that do take place,” the human rights group said in a press release on its site.
Of the recorded murders by the U.S.-NATO coalition was a September 2009 airstrike in the Kunduz province that followed the hijacking of two fuel tankers. The strike was called by the German military and has sparked protests in Germany against its involvement in the occupation following the blowback that resulted. The U.S. military recorded 56 civilian casualties, though “NATO’s investigation could not verify the exact number of casualties”, Amnesty reported German officials said, adding that its own survey of village elders concluded at 83 of the 142 killed were civilians.
What “could also prove embarrassing for the German government”, according to Spiegel, is the stationing of “roughly 300” members of TF 373 “on the grounds of Camp Marmal, the German field base in Mazar-e-Sharif, since the summer of 2009”.
Declan Walsh reported Monday at the Guardian that, on 4 March 2007, the U.S. Marines recklessly murdered 19 civilians and wounded dozens on a six-mile stretch of highway opening fire on unarmed civilians while fleeing the site of a suicide bombing, “hitting almost anyone in their way—teenage girls in fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road”.
An inquiry followed that whitewashed the incident and soldiers returned hours later to coerce journalists from covering the story, adding they threatened a photographer from the Associated Press with lethal force if he didn’t delete the pictures he recorded:
None of this, however, was captured in the initial military account, written by the Marines themselves. It simply says that, simultaneous to the suicide explosion, “the patrol received small arms fire from three directions”.
And the subsequent rampage as they drove away—which would later be the subject of a 17-day military inquiry and a 12,000-page report—is captured in five words: “The patrol returned to JAF [Jalalabad air field].”
The soldiers’ initial concern, it appears, was a wounded marine—their only casualty. Forty-nine minutes after the initial bombing, they requested a “routine medevac” for a private with “shrapnel wounds to the arm”. He was evacuated to safety.
An hour later came the first news of the trail of blood they left behind. A local government official told the marines there were “28 LN WIA”, which in layman’s terms means 28 Afghan civilians had been wounded. This later transpired to be a gross underestimate.
It was not the last one.
Two hours later Americans returned to the scene of the bombing to conduct an “exploitation of the blast site with pictures/grid cords as well as debriefing [Afghan National Police] leadership on scene”. Journalists on the spot gave a more detailed account. They said angry Marines tore their cameras from their hands, insisting they delete the pictures they had taken of bullet-pocked vehicles on the roadside. Rahmat Gul, a freelance photographer working for the Associated Press, said two soldiers and a translator came up to him and asked: “Why are you taking pictures? You don’t have permission.” Then they deleted his photographs.
Later, Gul said, one of the soldiers came up to him and raised his arm, as if to hit him. Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for the private Tolo TV channel, said the Americans told him through a translator: “Delete them, or we will delete you.”
No charges were ever brought against any officers and the families of the victims were paid $2,000 after protests erupted and a damning report by the Afghan Human Rights Commission was released.
As of Sunday evening, the Guardian had identified 21 incidents where the U.K. military fired on civilians killing 26–including 16 children—and wounding at least 20, representing “a small fraction of the 369 civilian casualties listed in the logs as due to coalition—mostly U.S.—action in total”, Mr. Leigh and Rob Evans reported.
The Guardian posted several reports of civilian casualties (h/t: Justin Raimondo) chronicled by the U.S. military, including:
- “Five in car, including toddler, machine-gunned by patrol“
- “Special forces wound two, kill six, including young girl, plus donkey and chickens“
- “Practice shell kills child and 10 sheep, injures shepherd“
Since employing them in June 2008, the U.K. has flown Reaper drones for 11,500 hours, firing 97 $100,000 missiles. The Ministry of Defence has not reported any civilian casualties as a result of these drone strikes, Mr. Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor reported Sunday evening. The U.S. has launched “at least 87 such attacks between President Obama taking office on 20 January 2009 and the end of June 2010”, killing well over 700 compared with “slightly fewer than 200” killed in 25 drone strikes by the Bush Administration in 2008, the BBC reported late last week, fueling “militant backlash”.
Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation (N.A.F.) have estimated 691-1,174 deaths from 103 documented U.S. drone strikes over the last 18+ months, including already in 2010 through last weekend’s strike that—Afghan officials report—killed 52 civilians. The N.A.F. conservatively estimates one in every three killed are civilians. Pakistan media reports estimate 50 civilians are killed for every militant leader. Counterinsurgency doctrine architects Andrew Exum and Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen wrote at the NYT in May 2009: “Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”
Former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal recently said ten enemies are created with every civilian death. He called it “insurgent math“.
The global drone market is expected to reach $55bn by 2018, Boeing officials have said, according to Bloomberg News.
The leaked records also tell of cross-border “clashes” between the Afghan and Pakistani militaries, but most notably the confirmation of—what’s long been accepted as fact by everyone but the U.S. government in public—Pakistani intelligence aiding, abetting and planning with networks referred to as the ‘Afghan Taliban’. Gareth Porter, investigative journalist at Inter Press Services and scholar on geopolitics, yesterday highlighted this as “the most politically salient issue”.
The Guardian has mapped an estimated 16,000 uses of improvised explosive devices against ISAF troops, “rising from 308 in 2004 to 7,155 in 2009”, showing an escalation of resistance with the escalation of coalition force and the records publicly show for the first time insurgent usage of heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles.
“The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military,”, the NYT reported Sunday evening. “This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahideen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.”
The missiles have been used repeatedly—on an occasion that killed five U.S. troops, one British and a Candian military photographer. “The war logs detail at least 10 near-misses by missiles in four years against coalition aircraft, one while refuelling at 11,000ft and another involving a suspected Stinger missile of the kind supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels in the 1980s,” Mr. Walsh reported Sunday evening.
“One internal report in September 2005 warned that Taliban commanders in Zabul and Kandahar provinces had acquired missiles they called ‘number two Stinger’, for about $1,000 (£650) each,” he added, including that the U.S. military suspects Iran and Pakistan as possible missile or training sources. ” Nine months later came the first of at least 10 near-miss reports.”
More striking is the confirmation that ISAF is further enabling a corrupt “mafialike” regime in Kabul and provincial governments. One log detailed concern of a police chief who was a known “notorious criminal” and former spy in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and others where the U.S. and U.K. governments expressed the widespread corruption throughout the Afghanistan Eradication Forces executing counter-narco operations, Mr. Norton-Taylor reported Monday.
Crucial to this point is that the insurgency is a reaction to the illegitimacy of the Afghan government and the ISAF coalition propping it up. The counterinsurgency doctrine is based on the theory that it’s imperative the occupying force ‘win hearts and minds’. In practice, “counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war”, Michael Hastings wrote at Rolling Stone in a recent exposé that led to the forced resignation of then-ISAF commander Gen. McChrystal.
The political reaction has been fairly uniform—that ‘WikiLeaks was wrong to leak the records, but they are insignificant, yet leaking government secrets threaten national security’. Seriously, that’s the reaction.
“While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said today to reporters after his national security said the Administration “strongly condemns” the leak.
The NYT has been the most sensitive of the three media organizations granted first access to the document dump, consulting with the Administration, which Press Secretary Robert Gibbs singled out saying it “handled this story in a responsible way”, only condemning WikiLeaks, Dana Milibank reported in a WaPo article highlighting “that Obama was being brought down by the same medium that made him”.
Party leaders on Capitol Hill, Carl Hulse and Jackie Calmes reported today at the NYT “At War” blog, “said that they still believe they will have the votes” to approve a $59bn supplemental to support escalating the occupation of Afghanistan, later adding:
Under expedited rules, debate on the measure Tuesday morning was sharply limited and the bill was brought up before noon, not a time when major legislation is usually debated. By using the process, the leadership will need nearly 290 votes to pass the measure depending on how many representatives vote.
Democrats are counting on nearly all 178 Republicans and up to 125 Democrats backing the money, meaning another 130 Democrats would oppose the legislation.
Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) countered today introduced House Concurrent Resolution 301 pushing for U.S. withdrawal from Pakistan. “By invoking the 1973 War Powers Act in the privileged resolution, the duo plan to force a debate and vote on the subject,” Yani Kunichoff reported today at Truthout, adding:
Kucinich and Paul argue that the 200 military personnel in Pakistan, some of which are training the Pakistani military in the volatile tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, were stationed without congressional oversight or approval and must therefore be removed.
Dr. Paul stated that it’s U.S. occupation that escalates violence. Mr. Kucinich said on the House floor: “Wake Up America. WikiLeaks’ release of secret war documents gave us 92,000 reasons to end the wars. Pick one.”
The Pentagon has launched an investigation into who and how the documents were leaked to WikiLeaks, adding that PFC Bradley Manning is a suspect, a spokesperson said, Kim Zetter and Kevin Poulsen reported yesterday at Wired.
“He is certainly one person that we would be looking at in terms of this leak,” said Col. Dave Lapan. “He’s not the only person. We’ve neither ruled in or ruled out PFC Manning. We’re still assessing the documents to see if we can determine the source of the leak.”
PFC Manning is a U.S. Army intelligence officer who was kidnapped by the U.S. government for allegedly leaking confidential video depicting U.S. troops in 2007 gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq from a helicopter and over a quarter-million diplomatic cables. He was recently charged for “wrongfully adding unauthorized software to a Secret Internet Protocol Router network computer” and violating the Espionage Act.
In early June, Philip Shenon at The Daily Beast reported the Pentagon was conducting a “manhunt” for Mr. Assange “for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables”.
EDIT: As expected the House passed the war-funding bill 308-114, appropriating $37bn more for the occupation of Afghanistan, and quashed the bill introduced by Mr. Kucinich and Dr. Paul 38-372.