Wikileaks proves: Afghan war unjust and unwinnable

July 31, 2010
Graphic of Wikileaks under a magnifying glass.
Graphic of Wikileaks under a magnifying glass.

“If the people keep identifying democracy as a system that is worst [sic] than the Taliban government, the people will support the anti-coalition forces and the security condition will degenerate”, an unnamed member of the Paktya provincial council is quoted in one of 75,000 classified US reports about the military occupation of Afghanistan published by the Wikileaks website on July 26.

Before publication, the files were shared with journalists from the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel for authentication and analysis.

Wikileaks acquired more than 91,000 reports, which they dubbed the “Afghan War Diary”. But it said it had “delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source”.

The US government reacted to the biggest military intelligence leak in history with a mixture of dismissiveness — playing down the documents by saying there was nothing “new” in them — and anger that “security” had been compromised.

US national security adviser James Jones said the publication of the documents puts the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk, ABC Online said on July 26.

Adelaide Now on July 29 quoted US Admiral Mike Mullen saying he was “appalled” at the leak.

Yet it seems governments and the media are not appalled by the horrifying content of the reports, which detail civilians being killed and maimed; brutality and lawlessness from the occupying forces and their Afghan puppets; cover-ups; endemic corruption and wide-scale disorganisation in running the occupation effort.

Mullen said the US's strategy would not change.

The response from the Australian government has been equally dismissive. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the defence department had simply established a task force to examine any material relating to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the Sydney Morning Herald said on July 27.

The leaked material both confirmed previously reported attacks on civilians by the occupying forces and revealed previously undocumented incidents. It also catalogues systematic under-reporting and cover-ups of such incidents.

The July 26 Guardian said, “the logs demonstrate how much of the … US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false”.

The leaked material shone light on the secretive role of Special Forces units such as Task Force 373, who carry out targeted assassinations and kidnappings of Taliban leaders, working from a hit list of about 2000 names called the “joint prioritised effects list”.

Not only is the legality of extrajudicial executions and abductions questionable, the files show “that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path”, the Guardian said.

For example, a report on an unsuccessful attempt to capture or kill Taliban commander Qarl Ur-Rahman on June 11, 2007 said: “The original mission was aborted and TF 373 broke contact and returned to base. Follow-up Report: 7 x ANP KIA, 4 x WIA.”

The acronyms denote that the Special Forces killed seven Afghan police and wounded four.

After seven children were killed by Task Force 373 on June 17, 2007, the occupation forces claimed to the media that the Taliban had used the children as human shields in a firefight.

However, the leaked files show the US press statements “failed to record that TF 373 had fired five rockets, destroying the madrasa and other buildings and killing seven children, before anybody had fired on them — that this looked like a mission to kill and not to capture”, the Guardian said.

“Indeed, this was clearly deliberately suppressed”

In fact, the files reveal that in this instance the US was so keen to hide the fact that the killings resulted from TF 373’s bungled attempt to assassinate an al-Qaeda operative and not, as they claimed, a chance encounter between US forces and the Taliban, that the relevant file was not to be shown even to the non-US component of the occupying forces (such as the British, Germans, Canadians and Australians).

The leaked files also show that many Afghans blame the occupation forces for bringing corruption as well as killing non-combatants.

Supporters of the war have sought to deflect attention from the revelations by criticising Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for revealing the names of Afghan informants who could be targeted by the Taliban.

Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James told the July 28 Sydney Morning Herald: “As an Australian citizen, … Assange may also be guilty of a serious criminal offence by assisting an enemy the ADF is fighting on behalf of all Australians, especially if the assistance was intentional.”

This moralising is deeply hypocritical — the very reports published by Assange detail killings and brutality performed by occupying troops and the warlord-run Afghan government they prop up.

Assange expressed doubt that any informers’ names had been revealed, pointing to the 15,000 files whose release had been delayed for that purpose and suggesting on the ABC’s Lateline on July 29 that the allegations against him were “media manipulation” by the US military.

Nothing can hide the fact that the Afghan War Diary presents a very different picture to the official version offered by the US and Australian governments.

Another revelation is that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban's insurgency, through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and military.

Despite Pakistan being a US ally and its public support of the Afghan government for Hamid Karzai, the reports allege sections of the Pakistani military have been supplying the Taliban with funding, safe-havens and logistical support.

Pakistan has denied the accusations. Former ISI head Hamid Gul said the leak was part of a US plot to remove itself from the war, the Washington Post said on July 28. However, these denials belie Pakistan's real interests in having a friendly force ruling Afghanistan.

Amin Saikal, professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, said on the ABC Drum website on July 28 that, recognising that the US was losing and would eventually leave, the ISI and Pakistani military are backing the Taliban to ensure Afghanistan would “not fall into the hands of any group which may not be receptive or subordinate to Pakistan's regional interests”.

Links between the Taliban and the ISI go back to the Taliban's origins in early 1990s. Indeed, the ISI created the Taliban with CIA approval.

The Afghan War Diary provides an insight into the day-to-day conditions of the war, leaving the idea that this is a “good war” in tatters. Thanks to Wikileaks, justifying the continuation of this war just got a lot harder.

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