Classified information on the war in Afghanistan has been released by three major media sources in the world–the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Nearly 92,000 documents were provided to the three sources by Wikileaks, and have been published in the form of "war logs."
The documents illuminate the following disturbing realities: a US-assassination squad in Afghanistan operates with a "kill-and-capture list," drones used by the US are prone to system failures, computer glitches and human error, Pakistan actively arms the Taliban even as the US works to keep the country an ally, CIA has expanded its paramilitary operations, intelligence agents are awash in data they don’t know what to do with (a conclusion that the Washington Post‘s "Top Secret America" digital journalism project probably demonstrates as well), how killings of civilians by forces are going unreported, how the US has covered up certain Taliban activity, and how Iran is likely aiding the Taliban.
Task Force 373
Der Spiegel characterizes the US-assasination squad as "the Secret Hunters." The squad, known as Task Force 373 to the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, is a "’black’ unit of forces" that has been hunting "down targets for death or detention without trial." The targets come from a list–the joint priorities effects list (JPEL)–a list of more than 2,000 senior figures who are believed to be drug barons, bomb makers or part of the Taliban or al-Qaida. Forces set out to "seize" targets on these lists for "internment" but in many cases the targets are killed instead.
The force includes "U.S. elite soldiers" from the "Navy Seals and members of the Delta Force." They receive their orders "directly from the Pentagon and are independent of the chain of command of the international ISAF Afghanistan security forces." The decision to arrest or kill targets is often up those hunting the targets down.
The existence of an assassination squad is likely not that surprising to those who remember it was revealed in 2009 that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered "a highly classified CIA operation hidden from Congress because it pushed the limits of legality by planning to assassinate al-Qaida operatives in friendly countries without the knowledge of their governments."
Documents indicate Pakistan, a US ally, have "directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders." The intelligence files suggest Pakistan’s spy agency ISI has been supplying, arming, and training insurgents in Afghanistan since 2004.
The Obama Administration provides $1 billion of military aid to Pakistan. There is significant doubt about about much of the information concerning ISI. The recorded allegation of a plot against Hamid Karzai is sourced to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is Afghanistan’s premier spy agency and an agency with a history of hostility toward the ISI. However, the documents do indicate the ISI is engaged in some level of collusion with the Taliban.
Also illuminated is the reality that US forces are getting into battles on the Pakistan border and in Pakistan. US troops have been "disregarding Pakistani sovereignty to fire on Taliban fighters" being sheltered by Pakistanis in the country’s tribal belt.(This, of course, provides much credence to Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s assertion last week that the US is acting in "violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution introduced after the Vietnam War that only allows the president to send US armed forces into military operations abroad if Congress approves the decision or if the United States is under a serious threat or attack.")
Civilian Deaths at Hands of Secret CIA Paramilitaries
The existence of CIA paramilitaries isn’t much of a secret especially to Der Spiegel, which reported on America’s use of CIA paramilitaries in Iraq. However, the paramiliaries’ role in civilian deaths has likely gone unreported due to the nature of the paramilitary forces.
Around 144 entries in the war logs indicate so-called "blue on white" events involving assaults on Afghans resulting in hundreds of casualties. The logs indicate civilian casualties come from the shooting of individual innocents or air strikes.
The Guardian’s assessment is that "the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false." The source notes this in conjunction with the reality that "US and allied commanders frequently deny allegations of mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or ploys to get compensation, which are contradicted by facts known to the military."
US Coverup of Fatal Taliban Missile Strike
The leaked documents indicate the Taliban has been using portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft. Specifically, these documents show that the US military covered up "a reported surface-to-air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand in 2007 and killed seven soldiers, including a British military photographer."
The CH-47 Chinook was shot down on 30 May 2007 after dropping troops at the strategic Kajaki dam in Helmand where the British were leading an anti-Taliban drive. Witnesses reported that a missile struck the left rear engine of the aircraft, causing it to burst into flames and nosedive into the ground. All on board died. NATO and US officials suggeste the Chinook was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) but the logs show they were certain it was a missile from a Manpad–which is the military term for a shoulder-launced surface-to-air missile.
Altogether, about 10 near-misses by missiles show up in the documents that were released. They suggest that some of the same technology used against Russia in the 1980s (which the CIA supplied) is being used against US troops and coalition forces.
Some Notes in Conclusion
The above summaries provide a glimpse into the nearly 92,000 documents given to the three media sources (Der Spiegel, The Guardian, The New York Times) and posted on Wikileaks.org. There is much more to be said about the contents and no doubt there are details missing in the previous portion of this article that probably should not have been left out.
Julian Assange told The Guardian (in a video that appears on the source’s website), "The significance of this material is both the overarching context–that is it covers the entire war since 2004–and the individual events" detailed like the incidents with Task Force 373 and the information in the logs concerning the way "the political class interfaces with US military and intelligence."
In the video, Assange notes the release is analogous to the Pentagon Papers, in some respects, and notes how this leak is much different.
"The situation is different in that its not just more material and been pushed to a bigger audience and much sooner–like everyone has the book, the whole log at once–but rather that [the situation is different because] because people can give back. So, people who are around the world who are reading this are able to comment on it and put it in context and understand the full situation. That is something that has not previously occurred and can only be brought about as a result of the Internet."
Indeed, throughout today, the rest of the week, and onward, any person can look over these files by downloading them off of Wikileaks or by accessing parts of the documents on the media sources who have done their journalistic duty by reporting on the documents. And, all the people of the world can respond and give back to the people who are bearing the brunt of this war and its abuses by engaging in a conversation about the leaked materials–first by sharing what is detailed in the contents and then by commenting on what the content’s details mean and what the proper response to those details should be.
The White House already is actively working to smear the leak and downplay the publication of the documents and the incidents that can be found in the leaked documents. An official statement released reads:
"We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."
The White House misunderstands or, in effort to protect US interests, makes a seriously flawed argument. As Assange says in the video mentioned above, "militaries keep information secret to prosecute their side of a war but also to hide abuse." There is a military argument for keeping secret information on "where troops are about to deploy" from. But, since the information is all from 2004-2010, none of the information is particularly sensitive.
And, it is not the job of any journalist to contact governments and ask permission to report something (even though that is how the majority of US press operate). As Assange said at the TED Conference this month, "there’s a lot of information organizations are spending economic effort into concealing. That’s a really good signal that when information gets out there’s a hope for doing some good."
The US government cannot get and will not get the value of the leaked documents. It’s not in the government’s interest to find value in them. That doesn’t mean the people of the world especially Americans cannot appreciate access to documents that show the truth of what is going on and use the release of classified information to catalyze a change, to shift perceptions on the Afghan war by spreading the contents of the documents far and wide.
The following video is a video previously leaked by Wikileaks, which shows a US military helicopter firing at unarmed civilians in Iraq. It shows how 12 civilians were killed including two journalists, Namir Nour El Deen and Saeed Chmagh, who worked for the Reuters news agency.