10th Anniversary of the Afghan War Diary – The War Criminals Walk Free
By Maxine Walker
It is now the 10th anniversary of Wikileaks’ publication of the Afghan War Diary. On 25 July 2010 WikiLeaks released 75,000 (of 91,000) secret US military reports covering the period 2004 to 2010. They did so with media partners Der Spiegel, the New York Times and the Guardian. Coming after the release of the Collateral Murder video in April and three months before the Iraq War Logs, the Diary has tended to be eclipsed in the public memory. Many have forgotten the huge reaction they caused but they remain particularly relevant today as the 19-year old US war in Afghanistan drags to its end (it is now longer than the war in Vietnam) and recently both Democrats and Republicans voted for troops to remain there.
As Wikileaks said at the time of the release: ‘The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war. The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.’
The publication of the War Diary and subsequently of the Iraq logs and hundreds of thousands of secret US cables shone an unwelcome spotlight on and dealt a harsh blow to the usual US fictions of a ‘just’ war, a war for ‘democracy’, ‘women’s’ rights’ etc’. Hence, it is also the 10th anniversary of the start of the unremitting persecution of Julian Assange. Ten years of gross injustice, public ridicule and mobbing, house arrest, arbitrary detention, prolonged psychological torture and surveillance have culminated in his imprisonment in Belmarsh maximum Security prison awaiting his ‘trial’ at the Old Bailey in September for extradition to the USA where he faces a possible 175-year sentence on espionage charges.
Responding days after the Afghan leaks: “Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates announced he has asked the FBI to help Pentagon authorities investigate the leak of the classified documents published by WikiLeaks. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, condemned the leak in the strongest possible manner during a Pentagon briefing ….”
“Calling on the FBI to aid the investigation ensures that the department will have all the resources needed to investigate and assess this breach of national security, the secretary said, noting that use of the bureau ensures the investigation can go wherever it needs to go. http://archive.is/y3VEE#selection-439.1-439.275.”
US intelligence agencies have certainly gone ‘wherever they need to go’ and drawn in other states – including Britain, Ecuador, Australia and Sweden as well as private covert organisations- to Assange’s persecution and capture. The war criminals walk free. Those who reveal the bitter truths of devastating wars are silenced and imprisoned.
Amongst its major revelations the Afghan War Diary included details on suppressed civilian casualties, a US assassination squad, the CIA’s expansion of paramilitary operations, civilian casualties and drone attacks. It also confirmed what was becoming more widely known (certainly by 2007) that Pakistan had collaborated with and provided refuge to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Because the US had given many billions of dollars to Pakistan for its assistance in the ‘war on terror’, many in the media seized on that point. Perhaps to deflect from more pertinent revelations.
The majority of the Afghan war reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers listening to reports from the front line. In the abbreviated and dry tone of the military, each separate report records the number of persons killed, wounded or detained in each action, its place and weaponry used. To understand the cumulative impact of seeing report after report of this nature it is worth looking at just two:
(EXPLOSIVE HAZARD) INTERDICTION RPT (Components) TF 2-2 : 1 UE KIA 1 UE WIA 7 UE DET
ISAF # 12-0374
At 1850Z, TF 2-2 using PREDATOR (UAV) PID insurgents emplacing IEDs at 41R PR 9243 0202, 2.7km NW of FOB Hutal, Kandahar. TF 2-2 using PREDATOR engaged with 1x Hellfire missile resulting in 1x INS KIA and 1x INS WIA. ISAF tracking #12-374
TF 2-2 DEPLOYED TO COMPOUND THAT THE WOUNDED INS FLED TO. FF HAVE CAPTURED THE INJ INS AND ARE CURRENTLY PURSUING OTHER INS THAT FLED THE COMPOUND.
UPDATE 100300D: TF 2-2 DETAINED A TOTAL OF 8X PAX TO INCLUDE THE 1X WOUNDED INS FROM EARLIER PREDATOR HELLFIRE STRIKE.
A SECOND QRF TEAM IS NOW EXPLOITING THE IMPACT SITE. 5X DETAINEES HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO FB HUTAL AND 3X HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO THE DC.
FF EXPLOITED THE IMPACT POINT AND FOUND 1X SHOVEL AND 1X PRYBAR. ALL FF ARE RTB.
BDA: 1X KILLED INS
1X WOUNDED INS
7X DETAINED LNs/POSS INS
EVENT CLOSED AT 0049Z
Translated this means that an Air Force Predator drone spotted a suspected group of ‘insurgents’ thought to be planting roadside bombs. The drone fired a Hellfire Missile. The report claims only 1 death and one wounded. When ground troops reached the crater caused by the $60,000 missile, all that was left was a shovel and a prybar.
A second report:
(FRIENDLY ACTION) CAS RPT (Bomb) KDZ JTAC, F-15S : 56 UE KIA
031542ZAUG09, OCC-P KDZ REPORTED 2X FUEL TRUCKS WERE STOLEN BY UNK NUMBER OF INS. INS INTENDED TO CROSS KDZ RIVER AT A FORD TO BRING THE FUEL TO CHAHAR DARREH DISTRICT. AT 1730Z, PRT KDZ JTAC OBSERVED KDZ RIVER AND REPORTED THAT IT DISCOVERED THE TRUCKS AS WELL AS UP TO 70X INS AT 42SVF8903852017, ON THE FORD ON THE RIVER. THE TRUCKS WERE STUCK IN THE MUD. COM PERT KDZ LINKED UP WITH JTAC AND, AFTER ENSURING THAT NO CIVILIANS WERE IN THE VICINITY, COM PRT KDZ AUTHORIZED AN AIRSTRIKE. AT 2119Z, AN F-15 DROPPED 2X GBU 38 BOMBS. AT 2158Z, BDA CONDUCTED BY F-15/ROVER WAS THAT 56X INS KIA (CONFIRMED) AND 14X INS FLEEING IN NE DIRECTION. THE 2X FUEL TRUCKS WERE ALSO DESTROYED.
041134D: 100X ANP WERE ON SCENE READY TO LINK UP WITH PRO COY AT PRT TO INVESTIGATE SCENE.
1213D: PRO COY STARTED TO MARCH TO AREA OF AIRSTRIKE AND ARRIVED ON SCENE AT 1234D. COY REPORTED THAT THEY HAD STARTED THEIR INVESTIGATION AND THAT THERE WERE A LOT OF ANA AND ANP AT THE AREA OF THE AIRSTRIKE.
1309D: PRO COY WAS ATTACKED WITH SAF FROM WESTERN DIRECTION. PRO COY RETURNED FIRE WITH SA. ENEMY FIRE STOPPED, SO COY CONTINUED WITH THEIR INVESTIGATION. AT 1322D, THE INVESTIGATION WAS COMPLETED. MEANWHILE, A LUNA (UAV) DISCOVERED SEVERAL PICKUPS AND PERSONS IN RAHMAT BAY (VF 879 523), SO PRT KDZ FIRED 2X 120MM ILLUMINATION MORTAR ROUNDS IN THEIR DIRECTION AT 1327D, TO PREVENT FURTHER ACTIVITIES OF POSSIBLE INS.
1353D: PRO COY MOVED BACK TO PRT KDZ AND ARRIVED AT 1423D.
At 0900 hrs International Media reported that US airstrike had killed 60 civilians in Kunduz. The media are reporting that Taliban did steal the trucks and had invited civilians in the area to take fuel.
ISAF HQ commenced CIVCAS procedures and conducted a brief over VTC with COMD RC-N.
Mitigation procedures have commenced and liaison with GIRoA officials in KABUL and in KUNDUZ are a priority.
The Governor of KUNDUZ is commenting that most of the casualties were Taliban.
RC-N and PRT KDZ are gathering more facts.
041134D* ANP was with 100 policemen on scene and prepared to link up with PROTECTION COY (PRO COY), which will leave PRT for investigations ASAP. 041213D* PRO COY started march to area of air strike for investigation. 041218D* PRO COY arrived at HAJI SAKI DED BY (VF 903 526). 041234D* PRO COY was at (VF 888 522) reported about a lot of ANP and ANA at the area of the air strike. PRO COY starts with investigation. NFI.
041353D* PRO COY moves back to PRT KDZ.
041423D* PRO COY back at PRT KDZ.
NFI.56 Killed None(None) Insurgent
Translated this means that after two fuel trucks had been stolen, an F-15 dropped 2 laser-guided bombs on the trucks. It does not acknowledge what later became known – that a large number of civilians were around the trucks waiting to get some fuel. The report states that 56 ‘insurgents’ were killed but in fact they were civilians.
Both reports bring out the vast disproportionality between the US military killers and those being killed and the same indifference to those on the receiving end of missiles and bombs that was amply demonstrated in the Collateral Murder video.
In the years following the leaks, while US strategies, successes/failures, tactics and troop levels varied, the gross imbalance between those being bombed, droned and shot and the US forces remained constant.
“The device that fell on a small village in Nangarhar’s Achin district…in April 2017 wasn’t just any bomb. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, or MOAB, weighed 21,600 pounds and cost $170,000. It was the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever used, capable of destroying an area the size of nine city blocks. It quickly became known as the “Mother of All Bombs.”
“The government claims that the bomb killed foreign fighters from a number of countries. But in the days and weeks following the bombing, the village itself was still under the watch of the US military. Journalists were not allowed within 10 kilometres, and it became clear that local military and government officials had not been given access either. In the two and a half years since, journalists and investigators have still not been able to get to the exact site of the attack in order to decipher what happened.”
The Afghan Diary shows how reluctant the US military is to acknowledge civilian deaths. As WikiLeaks said: ‘The material shows that cover-ups start on the ground. When reporting their own activities US Units are inclined to classify civilian kills as insurgent kills, downplay the number of people killed or otherwise make excuses for themselves’.
To give an example of this from journalist Jessica Tandy:
‘In Wardak, one Afghan province, a strike killed one man’s entire immediate family, including his seven children. The US military denied responsibility on three separate occasions, even telling us that they carried out no strikes in that area. Only after we found weapon fragments from the site conclusively proving US responsibility did they admit dropping the bomb (although they still deny civilian casualties). Had those fragments not been found, the US role in this incident might never have been uncovered.’
The correct number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan will never be accurately known. According to the UN there have been more than 32,000 civilians killed and around 60,000 injured (by all forces) in the last decade. This is likely to be a considerable underestimate. We also do not know how many people have also died as a result of the social chaos that is always the partner of war particularly in a poor nation such as Afghanistan where the number of people living below the poverty line has grown from 38.3 percent in 2012 to 55 percent in 2017, an increase of 5 million people.
Death Squads – Task Force 373
As WikiLeaks wrote when the Diary was published:’ The reports come from US Army with the exception of most Special Forces activities. However, when a combined operation involving regular Army units occurs, details of Army partners are often revealed. For example, a number of bloody operations carried out by Task Force 373, a secret US Special Forces assassination unit, are exposed in the Diary’.
In analysing this aspect of the Diary, the Guardian wrote:
‘The NATO coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed “black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. Details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a “kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list.’
‘Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation. They raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.’
One report shows TF-373 and emphasises its secret and protected status and the instruction ‘Do Not Share with Foreign Governments’ (abbreviated to NOFORN).
172100Z TF 373 OBJ Lane
NOTE: The following information (TF-373 and HIMARS) is Classified Secret / NOFORN. The knowledge that TF-373 conducted a HIMARS strike must be kept protected. All other information below is classified Secret / REL ISAF.
The incident in this report concerns an attempt to ‘kill/capture’ Abu Layth Al Libi an alleged commander of Al Qaeda.. Five rockets were fired on to a compound. Amidst the rubble they did not find Abu Layth Al Libi . Instead they found 7 dead children or in the stark words of the report ‘7 x NC KIA’. (Non-Combatants Killed in Action).
Whilst the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Professor Philip Alston, had already raised concerns in 2008 that targeted killings in Afghanistan “are increasingly being used far from any battle zone”, the Diary delivers the evidence. The recurring presence of Task Force 373 in the Diary showed an assassination programme carried out by US Special Forces and the CIA. The US Government had assiduously tried to keep this ‘kill/capture’ (with the emphasis on kill) programme secret.
In 2011 journalist Nick Turse wrote about the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) tasked with fighting global terrorism: “‘SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialized and secret missions. These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.”
“One of its key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes American citizens. It has been operating an extra-legal “kill/capture” campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine”.
By 2011 SOCOM had a budget of $10.3bn and in 2015 had 69,000 elite troops in 147 countries, their operations cloaked in secrecy.
This is not to forget the CIA which has espoused drone warfare with enormous enthusiasm. “By 2009, the air force and the CIA had deployed a drone armada of 195 Predators and 28 Reapers inside Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, flying thirty-four patrols daily… and firing Hellcat missiles at confirmed targets.” (Alfred McCoy ‘In the Shadows of the American Century.’)
President Obama was particularly keen on expanding this programme of pre-emptive execution. Figures show drone strikes in Pakistan alone rose to 353 under his rule, with numbers killed estimated at between 1,934 – 3,094. And yet in his usual glib manner he said in 2013: “From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation — and world — that we leave to our children.” And we would say in response: ‘You have defined that world and it is desolate’.
Task Force 373 proved to be the tip of a very large iceberg.
The US war (ironically called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’) in Afghanistan has proved disastrous for the Afghan people. Many tens of thousands have been killed and wounded, the country has been devastated and its people traumatised, displaced and driven into further poverty. Whilst its agricultural sector has been ruined, it saw opium production quadruple.
The US occupier has spent one trillion dollars on what became known as the War without End. The war began with an intense bombing campaign by US and British forces and within two months the Taliban government in Kabul was overthrown. 19 years later the US is preparing for the second stage of peace talks with the Taliban which controls much of the country. As with many of its other interventions in the Middle East, it has not gained whatever victory it was planning.
These wars have shown the extent to which the USA has become a lawless, gangster state with utter contempt for international law, indeed all laws. That contempt was shown when it used American MQ-9 Reaper drones to unlawfully assassinate Iranian General Soleimani as he visited Baghdad. It is shown in the US response to the International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate possible war crimes by the US and others (potentially including Britain) in Afghanistan. President Trump signed an order authorising the freezing of assets and visa bans against ICC officials, their family members and those who help them. And it is shown by their ruthless pursuit of Julian Assange and their defiance of the United Nations in regard both to his arbitrary detention and psychological torture.
Inevitably, the increased militarisation of US society led to a fast erosion of democratic norms domestically. Thus we have seen the police and Federal forces using tear gas, rubber bullets and other brutal forms of violence to try to break up Black Lives Matter protests. It was notable how many journalists were arrested whilst filming these events. As with their wars, the US state tries to keep secret their attacks on democracy at home.
Whilst it will continue to pursue ‘The War on Terror’ the US will probably do so through proxies, drones, assassinations, mass surveillance and other covert means. It is increasingly turning its attention now to its great economic rival China. The tone of Western rhetoric is reminiscent of the pre-First World War decade. We are already seeing the propaganda and lies and need to counter this and the drive to a war which will endanger the whole of humanity.
Those who value democratic rights and oppose government lies and secrecy know that Julian Assange is owed a huge debt of gratitude for publishing the Afghan War Diary and other exposures of the truth. That debt can only be paid by mobilising support for his freedom. It is a struggle that must be won. At stake is his life, honest journalism and our right to know about the actions of gangster governments. So that we can oppose and foil them.