07.25.10

The 7 Most Shocking Secrets From the WikiLeaks Files

More than 90,000 classified files documenting the war in Afghanistan have been published by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks, painting a dire portrait. From hidden civilian casualties to a special unit tasked with murdering top Taliban leaders without trial, see what’s in the explosive files. Plus, Philip Shenon on whether whistle-blower Bradley Manning acted alone .

More than 90,000 classified files documenting the war in Afghanistan have been published by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks, painting a dire portrait. From hidden civilian casualties to a special unit tasked with murdering top Taliban leaders without trial, see what’s in the explosive files. Plus, Philip Shenon on whether alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning acted alone.

The WikiLeaks Afghanistan files, one of the biggest leaks in the history of the U.S. military, cover January 2004 to December 2009, a time span the Obama administration has been quick to highlight, given that it implicates “under-resourcing” on the part of President George W. Bush. Although the White House was quick to condemn the release as “irresponsible,” The New York Times noted in its report that the paper did attempt to verify the information—withholding documents it felt would endanger national security—and that no government officials denied its authenticity.

Among the findings:

1) Pakistan’s spy service, according to revealed documents, is a major supporter of insurgents in Afghanistan, allowing its members to meet secretly with the Taliban, offering strategy advice, organizing groups to fight coalition troops, and plotting the assassinations of members of the Afghan government.

2) A top-secret group of American forces, nicknamed the “black” unit, is specially tasked with hunting down top Taliban leaders and either killing or capturing them on the spot—without a trial. The Obama administration has apparently increased the missions even though some have gone awry, killing civilians. 

3) NATO troops are relying on remote-controlled Predator drones more and more heavily, controlling them from a base in Nevada and using them to kill an increasing number of Taliban targets.

4) The Taliban has access to heat-seeking missiles and has used them against American aircraft, a fact never before disclosed publicly. Many of the missiles aren’t successful. Americans have also been forced into dangerous retrieval operations when their own remote-controlled drones crash, so that Taliban do not recover them.

5) Several documents detail the frustrating disappearance of money meant for humanitarian aid, such as the case of an orphanage erected with much fanfare and donations in Gardez. A year after its opening, American visitors reported that there we no orphans at the site, and that many had been called home for the holidays. (In Afghanistan, an orphan is defined as having no father, but many still have mothers.)

6) Civilian death tolls are rising consistently, with the Taliban conducting a successfull roadside bombing campaign. As of the writing of the report, one document cited 2,000 civilian deaths from roadside car bombs alone.

7) U.S. forces covered up a 2007 helicopter attack, according to the documents, claiming that Taliban brought down a coalition helicopter with conventional weaponry—when instead they used a missile. A U.S. official at the time said the attack, which killed seven soldiers, “had probably been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade.”