A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.
The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Timesand the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and over 1,000 US troops.
Their publication comes amid mounting concern that Barack Obama's "surge" strategy is failing and as coalition troops hunt for two US navy sailors captured by the Taliban south of Kabul on Friday.
The newspapers admit they kept some secrets too sensitive for publication buried and the details in the document dump seem to be of the kind well known already to wonks who have followed Afghanistan reporting over the years, but the manner and volume of the War Log's release will doubtless crystallize the opinions of many who were only casual readers of news from the West's occupation there. With public opinion against that occupation running at some 60% in the U.S. and over 70% in the UK and Germany, these leaks will put further pressure on Western governments to find an exit sooner rather than later.
Among the stories on which new light has been shed:
-- Pakistan and to a far lesser extent Iran have been offering funding and other direct aid to Taliban groups for years. Pakistan's ISI is reported to have been behind many Taliban targeting decisions, including on U.S. and coalition troops, despite it being an ostensible ally.
-- The U.S. has been using an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. This team has been responsible for the deaths of Afghan policemen and civilians, including children but authorities seem to have been more concerned with keeping its operations secret than curtailing its zeal.
-- There have been over 50 incidents of "Green on Green" fire - where Afghan police or soldiers opened fire on their fellow uniformed countrymen, many begun by drug use, corruption or indiscipline.
-- There are reports of hundreds of border clashes between Pakistani troops and their Afghan or American opposite numbers - far more than previously reported.
-- The 140 reports of incidents involving the shooting and blowing up of civilians by Coalition troops reveal a casual disregard for human life, including "nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys...'warning shots' often seem to cause death or injury, generally ascribed to ricochets."
The reason why governments don't want us to see war too closely is that they see how little point there is to the whole bloody mess. Why are we still there? Why are we destroying all these lives?