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  July 25, 2010

Secret files: Wikileaks reveals 'unseen war'

Major security breach reveals alleged "execution squads", an apparent plot to kill the Afghan president
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Channel 4: A major security breach reveals alleged "execution squads", an apparent plot to kill the Afghan president and previously unreported civilian deaths. Wikileaks editor Julian Assange speaks to Channel 4 News about his decision to leak the secret files online.

Channel 4 News has seen the classified documents but has been unable to independently verify its authenticity.

Secret Afghanistan files: revealed for the first time

The extraordinary leak made public by whistleblowers' website Wikileaks has lifted the lid on more than 90,000 US military documents involving classified information direct from the battlefield in Afghanistan. It is the US army's secret war diary - 200,000 pages of it - written by soldiers on the frontline.

The files reveal previously classified information about civilian deaths, a mysterious "assassinations squad" named Task Force 373, an alleged Pakistani plot to kill President Karzai, evidence of suspected foreign support for the Taliban and countless daily incidents in which Nato troops are engaged by Taliban forces.

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The data gives a graphical record of the war from 2004 until the end of 2009, detailing thousands of US military operations. The leaks contain "cables" filed by US units, often within a couple of hours of combat.

The records contain logs of both civilian and military "kills" - pinpointing when and where a death happened. More than 20,000 deaths have been recorded overall.

Leaked files: death toll

The classified reports contain detailed logs of fatalities - both military and civilian.

Afghanistan expert and author Stephen Grey, who wrote Operation Snakebite, has analysed the data for Channel 4 News and calculated the number of deaths revealed in the report. Here is the breakdown:

Enemy killed: 15,506

Civilians killed: 4,232

Afghan Army (ANA) killed: 3,819

Nato forces killed: 1,138

Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, in an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News said he believes this is "the most comprehensive history of a war ever to be published - during the course of the war".

Read more from our exclusive interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

The White House has issued a statement to the New York Times "condemning" the leak. The US newspaper is focusing on Pakistan's alleged connections with Taliban insurgency.

It reads: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, [it] puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security.

"Wikileaks made no effort to contact the United States government about these documents, which may contain information that endangers the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."

The 'underreporting' of civilian deaths by coalition forces

Some of the documents appear to indicate the "underreporting" of civilian casualties.

In 2008, a AC-130 "Spectre" gunship carried out a ground attack on the village of Azizabad in Herat Province. The target was a Taliban commander. The report at the time said that no civilians had died. It only refers to 30 insurgents killed in action.

In fact, according to a UN report, 90 civilians died - 60 of them children as well as 15 women.

Meanwhile in September 2006, troops taking part in Operation Medusa moved into a large area around Panjwayi, west of Kandahar, and a known Taliban stronghold.

A Nato report found that 31 civilians had died - 20 of them from the same extended family following an airstrike. The leaked documents record 181 civilian deaths.

Top secret black-ops unit targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders on 'capture/kill lists'

In June 2007 a special forces unit - Task Force 373 - attempted to kill or capture a senior al-Qaida commander. The leaked secret report shows that the operation left seven children dead. The documents also reveals that "TF 373" were using deadly high-mobility artillery rocket systems - known as "Himars" missiles.

Julian Assange told Channel 4 News: "There are many reports discussing the assassination lists that the US military have - hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are on these lists."

(Revealed: a US military report details a failed attempt to kill a senior member of al-Qaida, which left seven children dead in June 2007)

Alleged plot by Pakistani intelligence to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai

The files also contain material about Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) operatives crossing over the border as well as firing by US troops from Afghanistan into Pakistan and drone flights.

There is a log on an alleged plot by ISI spies to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in August 2008. The log describes a "suicide mission" at the presidential palace, but concedes: "There was no information as to how or when this was to be carried out".

Statement from the White House in full:

"We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations [which] put the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security.

"Wikileaks made no effort to contact the United States government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who cooperate with us."

On Pakistan:

"That said, the status quo is not acceptable, which is precisely why the United State has focused so much on this challenge.

"Pakistan is moving in the right direction, but more must be done. The safe-havens for violent extremist groups within Pakistan continue to pose an intolerable threat to the United States, to Afghanistan, and to the Pakistani people who have suffered greatly from terrorism."

Who leaked the data?

Somewhere in the world at a US military base in the last six months, someone accessed a secret computer and started to copy the entire contents of a classified network.

The information copied by that insider has now been placed on the internet by Wikileaks.

Wilikeaks say they have cut out some references to sources of intelligence – to avoid them being killed by the Taliban. They call it "harm minimisation" but it is, of course, a form of censorship – a new departure for this group.

Parallels with the 'Pentagon Papers'

The documents have drawn parallels with another major military leak, when in 1971 top secret papers about America's political and military involvement in Vietnam were brought to light in the New York Times.

The study, officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, became known as the "Pentagon Papers" (see full text) and detailed the ultimately doomed involvement of the US in the conflict.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks editor, told Channel 4 News this new data leak is even more significant.

He said: "There doesn't seem to be an equivalent disclosure made during the course of the war when it might have some effect. the nearest equivalent is perhaps the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg in the 1970s which was about 10,000 papers - but that was already four years old when it was released."

(Field Artillery fire a 155mm Howlitzer at a Taliban observation point in Kandahar)

Military acronyms and abbreviations: what they mean

AAF - Anti Afghanistan forces (Taliban)

AC-130 - Spectre gunship (heavily armed seek and destroy aircraft)

ANA - Afghan National Army

AWT - Advanced weapons team

CJSOTF – Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force

EKIA – Enemy killed in action

EOM - End of message

ETT - Engineer training team

EWIA – Enemy wounded in action

FF - Friendly forces

HIMARS - High mobility artillery rocket system

ISAF - International Security and Assistance Force

JEL - Joint Effects List (low priority capture/kill list)

JPEL - Joint Priority Effects List (Special Forces kill/capture list)

KAF – Kandahar Air Field

MEDEVAC – Medical evacuation

NC - Non combatants (Civilians)

NOFORM - Not for release to foreign nationals

OBJ - Objective or target

RPG – Rocket propelled grenade

RPK - Soviet made light machine gun

SAF - Small arms fire

TB - Taliban

TIC - Troops in contact

WIA - Wounded in action

Z – Zulu time. This refers to GMT which is standard for Nato military forces


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