A dire litany of botched raids, civilian deaths and mayhem

Tue, Jul 27, 2010, 01:00

BACKGROUND:The exposé of brutality and corruption will not impress US taxpayers or humanitarians, writes LARA MARLOWE,Washington Correspondent

JULIAN ASSANGE, the Australian founder of the Wikileaks.org website that has just published 92,000 secret reports from the war in Afghanistan, compared the documents to the Pentagon Papers, which helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War in 1971.

The reports detail the pursuit by secret US units of about 70 extremist leaders on a “capture/ kill list”. In one botched night raid in June 2007, commandos from the army’s Delta Force and Navy Seals sought Abu Laith al-Libi, an al-Qaeda commander.

Instead, seven children were killed by US rockets and six men were gunned down from helicopters as they tried to flee.

A haunting report from March 2007 tells how a CIA paramilitary unit opened fire on a man who ran at the sight of their convoy, shooting him in the ankle. The man turned out to be a deaf mute who had fled in fear.

Reacting to the report, Amnesty International said yesterday: “The military logs bear out Amnesty International’s long-standing concerns that there is no coherent or consistent system for accounting for civilian casualties” in Afghanistan.

The documents also show that unmanned drones are not always the wonder weapons they are purported to be. In one instance, an Air Force F15-E shot down a $13 million Reaper drone carrying cameras, Hellfire missiles and 500lb bombs because it lost its satellite link with the pilot.

Revelations about the double-dealing of Pakistani intelligence services and heat-seeking missiles in the hands of insurgents have been billed as the “scoops” of the Afghan documents. Buried in the reports though is an equally alarming narrative of how the US is losing the war because of the venality of the Afghan security forces and officials it is trying to shore up.

A US civil affairs officer quotes local officials in a September 2007 report from Paktia province. “The general view of the Afghans is that the current government is worst (sic) than the Taliban,” they tell him. The oldest Afghan in the group says: “The corrupted government officials are a new concept brought to Afghanistan by the AMERICANS.”

The sinking feeling that such reports will inspire in US taxpayers and lawmakers is compounded by precise accounts of brutality and corruption.

An incident report from Balkh province last October recounts how a district police commander forced himself on a 16-year-old girl. The commander ordered his bodyguard to shoot a civilian who complained. When the bodyguard refused, the commander shot the bodyguard.

The reports published by Wikileaks illustrate how deeply unreliable are the Afghan police and army to whom Nato wants to relinquish control. They collaborate with insurgents and have repeatedly defected with vehicles, weapons and uniforms.

A December 2009 incident report tells how an argument broke out between Afghan police and soldiers at the scene of a car crash in Oruzgan province. A civilian was killed and six civilians, three police officers and a soldier were wounded in the ensuing gun battle.

Other reports tell how Afghan police officers extort money from motorists at checkpoints. An Afghan working on a US base taped GPS units under his clothing before trying to leave. A police chief falsely told the Americans his unit had been in a firefight, so he could obtain more ammunition to sell in the market.

Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, was meant to win the loyalty of local residents and link them to the central government in Kabul. When Keating was opened in 2006, the Americans handed out pencils, milk and footballs to smiling Afghans. However the insurgents, who held the high ground above access roads and the outpost, gradually isolated it.

They cut off the ears of lorry drivers who delivered supplies and shot dead the leader of the local council.

In the final, harrowing nine-hour battle before Keating was shut down last October, insurgents fighting from the police station rained mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-gun fire on the Americans. Eight US soldiers were killed, nearly two dozen were wounded. The survivors retreated into the only building not on fire, while desperately pleading for reinforcements with messages saying: “We need it now we have mortars pinned down and fire coming from everywhere.”

Then 47 minutes later: “Enemy in the wire at Keating” followed one minute later by “ENEMY IN THE WIRE ENEMY IN THE WIRE!!!”