Afghanistan war logs: the unvarnished picture

A leaked trove of US military logs reveals a very different landscape from the one with which we have become familiar

The fog of war is unusually dense in Afghanistan. When it lifts, as it does today with the Guardian's publication of selections from a leaked trove of secret US military logs, a very different landscape is revealed from the one with which we have become familiar. These war logs – written in the heat of engagement – show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised "public" war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.

The war logs consist of more than 92,000 records of actions of the US military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009. The logs were sent to Wikileaks, the website which publishes untraceable material from whistleblowers. In a collaboration with the New York Times and Der Spiegel, the Guardian has spent weeks sifting through this ocean of data, which has gradually yielded the hidden texture and human horror stories inflicted day to day during an often clumsily prosecuted war. It is important to treat the material for what it is: a contemporaneous catalogue of conflict. Some of the more lurid intelligence reports are of doubtful provenance: some aspects of the coalition's recording of civilian deaths appear unreliable. The war logs – classified as secret – are encyclopedic but incomplete. We have removed any material which threatens the safety of troops, local informants and collaborators.

With these caveats, the collective picture that emerges is a very disturbing one. We today learn of nearly 150 incidents in which coalition forces, including British troops, have killed or injured civilians, most of which have never been reported; of hundreds of border clashes between Afghan and Pakistani troops, two armies which are supposed to be allies; of the existence of a special forces unit whose tasks include killing Taliban and al-Qaida leaders; of the slaughter of civilians caught by the Taliban's improvised explosive devices; and of a catalogue of incidents where coalition troops have fired on and killed each other or fellow Afghans under arms.

Reading these logs, many may suspect there is sometimes a casual disregard for the lives of innocents. A bus that fails to slow for a foot patrol is raked with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others. The documents tell how, in going after a foreign fighter, a special forces unit ended up with seven dead children. The infants were not their immediate priority. A report marked "Noforn" (not for foreign elements of the coalition) suggests their main concern was to conceal the mobile rocket system that had just been used.

In these documents, Iran's and Pakistan's intelligence agencies run riot. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is linked to some of the war's most notorious commanders. The ISI is alleged to have sent 1,000 motorbikes to the warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani for suicide attacks in Khost and Logar provinces, and to have been implicated in a sensational range of plots, from attempting to assassinate President Hamid Karzai to poisoning the beer supply of western troops. These reports are unverifiable and could be part of a barrage of false information provided by Afghan intelligence. But yesterday's White House response to the claims that elements of the Pakistan army had been so specifically linked to the militants made it plain that the status quo is unacceptable. It said that safe havens for militants within Pakistan continued to pose "an intolerable threat" to US forces. However you cut it, this is not an Afghanistan that either the US or Britain is about to hand over gift-wrapped with pink ribbons to a sovereign national government in Kabul. Quite the contrary. After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm. A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this.


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Comments in chronological order (Total 264 comments)

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  • HammondOrganB3

    25 July 2010 10:14PM

    We're killing civilians and keeping it quiet.

    Pakistan is helping the Taliban kill the soldiers.

    A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this.

    After nine years of warfare, we have already announced our exit on the grounds we have lost.

    VICTORY THROUGH DEFEAT!

  • MorallyUnambiguous

    25 July 2010 10:18PM

    To be perfectly honest, I don't understand why any of us are surprised at the scale of the carnage. Let's hope having these facts in black-and-white will help change the way in which the war is being pursued.

  • josephnation

    25 July 2010 10:31PM

    The British have always been killing civilians, just look at what they have done in Ghana, Ireland, Indonesia. The list goes on.

  • junglederry

    25 July 2010 10:35PM

    A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this

    Really ! It is fought for the American Imperialist Empire.

  • Ian585

    25 July 2010 10:39PM

    It usually takes an intelligence leak to make people realise how much bullshit we are spoon-fed the rest of the time. And yet we never learn...

  • Raashid

    25 July 2010 10:41PM

    As long as the US is seen to be beaten in Afghanistan, civilization may yet move on.

  • worried

    25 July 2010 10:41PM

    No comment.

    Other than if we were really 'at war' it would be different, wouldn't it.
    Like we would have done much much more of this and would have won, sorry conquered. Definitively.
    But we are not waging a war; we are simply exercising our professional militaries and their proxies on the ground... earning salary, using ordinance, testing battleground tactics and equipment and all of the above while attempting to achieve no home casualties within a set of political requirements that are no better than dogma.

    So again, no comment.

  • SilentRunning

    25 July 2010 10:45PM

    So in our name soldiers are killing children and other innocent civilians? This is part of the technique of creating a civilized democratic government in Afghanistan in order to make Britain safer?

    Hundreds of British soldiers have died in a military operation costing - we are told - £5 billion annually. There is nothing to show for their sacrifice and this colossal expenditure except slaughter, brutality, chaos and corruption.

    If foreign soldiers were running round America or Germany or the UK killing children and other civilians it would be called a war crime. What is it called in Afghanistan? Where is the moral difference?

    The British government continues to support this obscene disaster in Afghanistan. Why?

    The Guardian should be congratulated for bringing these shocking details to light. The British government cannot justify what is happening but they must be pressed for a response to the carnage going on in Afghanistan.

  • lecorsaire

    25 July 2010 10:50PM

    The war is lost.

    The enemy controls most of the country.

    The people hate us. The neighbouring countries hate us.

    Our soldiers are dying. We are bankrupt.

    The war is lost.

    It's time to bring the troops home.

  • raymonddelauney

    25 July 2010 10:54PM

    Jack Straw you are an habitual politician who regards truth as an unpleasant consequence of your actions. We are left with no alternative other than to send you to the Hague.

    Take him away.

  • PeleMcAmble

    25 July 2010 10:56PM

    These stories about civilian casualties are horrible but then war is horrible so surely, no one can be surprised.

    The difficulty now is getting ourselves out of this mess. There ought to be a proper exit strategy, not a vague suggestion from the Prime Minister that the pull out will coincide with the next general election. How many more soldiers and civilians will be killed or maimed before then?

  • titty

    25 July 2010 10:59PM

    We are forever trying to save Islam from itself. Isn't time we stopped being so culturally arrogant and got out.

  • vigdis

    25 July 2010 11:01PM

    The official line that we have been fed has always been rather unconvincing. It comes as no surprise.

    Kudos to the Guardian for revealing this.

  • LinearBandKeramik

    25 July 2010 11:15PM

    @titty

    We are forever trying to save Islam from itself. Isn't time we stopped being so culturally arrogant and got out.

    Don't worry, we aren't really trying to save Islam (witness our allies Saudi Arabia, for example). It's just a good way to spin things when people start to question the latest war.

  • VictorPurinton

    25 July 2010 11:16PM

    US and NATO out!

    Taliban back in charge!

    No more school for girls!

    Al Qaeda training camps back in action!

    That's thinking long term

  • easterman

    25 July 2010 11:26PM

    a very different landscape is revealed from the one with which we have become familiar

    Which landscape have you been looking at.

    Are journalists and politicians really that much thicker than joe/josephine public who seem to know full well that iraq and afganistan were bloody reource wars in which the well-being of the locals was never part of the equation

  • bedebyes

    25 July 2010 11:36PM

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

  • goodcaptain

    25 July 2010 11:38PM

    What we are all now slowly understanding is that this so called war is corroding and corrupting all of US. The fabric of our own society has been damaged by the actions of a small coterie of very powerful but totally corrupt politicians-

    Anthony Blair.
    George W Bush
    D Rumsfeld.
    Gordon Brown.

    To name four.

    These people must be prosectued or at least asked to remove themselves from the public sphere.

  • emma2001

    25 July 2010 11:44PM

    The schools building budget has been cut by 1 billion over the next 5 years

    Yet we waste 46 Billion pounds a year on the military fighting a illegal war - not even Russia years ago defeat Aghanistan

    46 Billion on war and 13 billion on the olympics and yet we close the schools building projects costing a billion

    What a sick country we are not the people but out rulers

    Emma

  • Midland

    25 July 2010 11:45PM

    Thank god the world is not run by the same hysterical types that comment here on CiF.

    The Taliban are almost exclusively Pathan, they make up less than 50% of the overall Afghan population. Even at the height of their power they never controlled all of Afghanistan.

    We are not going to create western style democracy in that country but that is the Afghan peoples tragedy. What we can do though is maintain funding and enough forces to maintain the power of Afghan factions that will not allow 9/11 type conspirators to operate unmolested as occurred pre-2001.

    From there we wait it out over the decades until the force of time and western investment allows for some sort of progress.

    @Raashid

    Brilliant, I suppose the Taliban are the forces of civilization.

  • CanWeNotKnockIt

    25 July 2010 11:57PM

    Raashid:
    As long as the US is seen to be beaten in Afghanistan, civilization may yet move on.

    I guess the 2,000 civilians killed by Taliban IEDS (another war crime) might disagree, along with the large number of Afghan people who hate the Taliban.
    That's before you get to the huge number of people around the world who despair at the impact a bunch of 'religious' thugs can have on the world in year 2010.
    Nobody's 'won' in Afghanistan. A hell of a lot of people have lost though.

  • Leondeinos

    26 July 2010 12:00AM

    A lately rather successful British general tells us that this war is about creating Malayan inkspots. Equally to the point is the American policy of winning farts and behinds.

    Both neglect the blood that has always been evident and now is the more so from these reports. Take a look, Messrs. Obama and Cameron. Time to quit Afghanistan, and after 30 years, to leave it and its neighbors alone.

  • KK47

    26 July 2010 12:13AM

    After reading above on what wikileaks has to show (just google their site and find out) on the subject am surprised that people are surprised - war brings chaos, chaos brings violence, violence breeds violent men who win by being more violent then their rivals ergo Taliban will in the end win A) unlike Karzai government they are ruthlessly competent as they violent B) unlike NATO the Taliban are locals C) Guerilla fighters don't have to win all the time they just don't have to concede defeat, in Afghanistan that means outlasting any invading foreigner - have they not heard the old adage of Afghanistan being 'the grave yard of empires' or does the casualty figures higher into six figure sums before this isn't saying is understood properly?

  • lierbag

    26 July 2010 12:18AM

    This has all come as a deep shock to me. Based on the testimonies of family members after losing sons serving in Afghanistan, I thought all of our military personnel were, without exception, loving, caring, 'not a harsh word for anyone' sort of people, who only went over there in the first place owing to a burning sense of injustice, and a desire to help teach kids how to ride their first bikes, and bring shopping home for aged Afghan pensioners. And now I'm being told that all along they've mainly been people not only willing to abandon their consciences, but also prostitutie their very souls, in killing entirely innocent people - on command and without question - for regular cash payments.

    Incredible. Who would have believed it?

  • victorjara

    26 July 2010 12:25AM

    Thank goodness for wiki-leaks and the Guardian . If it was left to the BBC, SKY news etc and the usual military apolgists masquarading as experts they parade out to justify the horrors of what is happening in Afghanistan we could remain comfortable in the delusion of the worthiness of the cause.

    I hope the TV news channels have this as their lead story tomorrow, somehow I doubt it after all it took the establishment 38 years to admit they murdered civilians in Derry.

  • bazzartii

    26 July 2010 12:26AM

    It is all about energy apparently.

    http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/oil.html?q=oil.html

    Enjoy and weep.

  • Contributor
    Suhasini

    26 July 2010 12:28AM

    But then, this war is not fought to reform.

    It is fought to regress.

    Them and us both.

    That is all it has ever been.

  • AlMcGrachee

    26 July 2010 12:32AM

    History :
    Middle East partition
    Indian partition
    Korean partition
    Vietnam partition
    Eastern Europe partition

    keep it far enough from Washington and any old place is good for commercial gain from oil and weapons

    Bhopal 0 v Gulf of Mexico 5,600,000,000 and counting

    it's all bollocks

    and that is what your children are fed on

  • FionDearg

    26 July 2010 1:11AM

    You know we're fucked in that country when even a Hazara is shooting Gurka's.

    The Hazara's were slaughtered by the Taliban, and yet when one of their sons does something like this?

    Through the Hazara's we still have Greco Sogdian fun.

  • SeanThorp

    26 July 2010 1:20AM

    Oh what a shock we've been entirely lied to by the Government, the Guardian and the rest of the 'free press' well done blowing the whistle to Wikileaks and providing official confirmation of what we already allowed was happening. Seems Wikileaks is a very powerful guy he should watch out for accidents.

    Anything about turning a blind-eye to opium growing and destabilising China with the growing heroin problem? All seems a bit too convenient given the history.

  • Arcane

    26 July 2010 1:30AM

    The war in Afghanistan is essentially lost as far as America and its NATO/ISAF allies are concerned. These repulsive incidents of unnecessary and illegal murder of Afghans by foreign forces are reminiscent of the final stages of the US failure in Vietnam during the 1970s. Then, as now, the military were sent to fight a complex, largely political conflict that involved a civil war that had become part of a wider proxy war between major powers. The key measure of success for the insurgents was to keep the level of violence up so as to provoke just this type of brutality from the foreign occupiers. Every time the foreign occupying forces bomb a village or have one of their soldiers shoot a civilian the insurgents win.

    The insurgents work to a different standard as that of the foreign troops. They can kill and maim with ruthlessness, but then they are already the bad guys so why should anyone be surprised. Their own ruthless behaviour is justified by the insurgents using their ideological cause as a point of focus. In Vietnam it was Communism and Nationalism, with the latter evoking a more powerful sense of common purpose among people than the population than the former. The same is true in Afghanistan. This time the ideology is a hard line version of the Islamic faith and the nationalism is more about tribal loyalties and a hatred of the foreign invader, but the dynamics are similar.

    The US-led NATO/ISAF campaign in Afghanistan is strategically flawed, confused and failing. As is often the case in such strategic vacuums, the troops take matters into their own hands and with the “black ops” Colonels and Generals pushing the moral and legal boundaries with the tacit support of their political masters, the entire campaign nose dives into the sewer. The best option for NATO/ISAF countries is to pull out their troops now and let the Afghans alone. America, Britain and the other countries that have sent troops to Afghanistan should apologise for their actions and set up a process of sending large sums of money to Afghan tribes via an international banking mechanism. The tribal leaders can decide how to use this money for their civil reconstruction. The cost of this strategy would be potentially no more and most likely a lot less than the cost of maintaining the military forces in Afghanistan, and would reduce the loss of lives and serious injuries to the people of both sides.

    Afghanistan is not a serious threat to the west. Politicians when asked, particularly the conservative type, state with conviction that the war in Afghanistan must be fought so as to stop that country ever again becoming a base for Al Qaeda. This is nonsense. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is more likely to generate terrorism than leaving the place alone. The Taliban are not Al Qaeda and pose no threat to Washington, New York, London or Sydney. They may be a nasty and misogynist bunch of religious zealots, but that is something they share with many other organisations across the world.

  • osiann

    26 July 2010 1:34AM

    Recommended reading:

    Afghanistan:

    "...even General McChrystal acknowledges that U.S. forces have killed civilians who meant them no harm. During a biweekly videoconference with US soldiers in Afghanistan, he was quite candid. "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force,” said General McChrystal."
    http://www.counterpunch.org/kelly04302010.html

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/04/05/us_forces_afghanistan_killings_open2010
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/13/world/asia/13afghan.html?_r=1&hp

    Iraq:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2003/mar/02/iraq.foreignpolicy1
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/02/usa.iraq

    "...if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent."
    "One time they said to fire on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation.... One of the snipers replied back, 'Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?' The lieutenant colonel responded, 'You heard me, trooper, fire on all taxicabs.' After that, the town lit up, with all the units firing on cars."
    "An act that took place quite often in Iraq was taking pot shots at cars that drove by," he said, "This was not an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our eight-month deployment."
    "... on these convoys, I saw Marines defecate into MRE bags or urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the road," he stated.
    http://www.truth-out.org/iraq-war-vet-we-were-told-just-shoot-people-and-officers-would-take-care-us58378

    Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah 'worse than Hiroshima'
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/toxic-legacy-of-us-assault-on-fallujah-worse-than-hiroshima-2034065.html

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/24/war-crimes-us-soldiers-iraq

    Pakistan:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/23/suspected-us-drone-attack_n_219696.html

    ---

    Nobel peace prize winner order air-strike in Yemen:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/cruise-missiles-strike-yemen/story?id=9375236

    "No credible evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons":
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/30/iranian-nuclear-weapons-mohamed-elbaradei

  • smundy1969

    26 July 2010 1:52AM

    Well, the Guardian has just had an article on female circumcision. We have a habit of telling them how to behave.

    The stupidest sentence ever uttered on here. And if it's time for taking sides, then I'm very very much NOT on your side chum.

  • lightacandle

    26 July 2010 2:06AM

    If only we were told the truth about all conflicts then we would have learnt from history and maybe not be in this situation today - let's hope another generation will learn from this conflict and not be in this situation in a far off tomorrow.

  • geronimo

    26 July 2010 2:20AM

    SilentRunning:

    Hundreds of British soldiers have died in a military operation costing - we are told - £5 billion annually. There is nothing to show for their sacrifice and this colossal expenditure except slaughter, brutality, chaos and corruption.

    Oh... but there's lots to show for the sacrifice of ISAF forces and the billions spent on their Afghan adventure. Ask Dick Cheney - fantastic profits for miltary suppliers and contractors, great funding for the politicians they bankroll, and a great bogeyman for those politicians to frighten a domestic audience to maintain military expenditure on this otherwise pointless and tragic campaign.

    'It's the economics, stupid!'

  • AlllTouttt

    26 July 2010 2:21AM

    US and NATO out!

    The Soviets got shown the door too!

    Taliban back in charge!

    Them or the War Lords don't make a whole lot of difference...

    No more school for girls!

    Kids over there never got much education before anyway!

    Al Qaeda training camps back in action!

    Nothing drones can't handle...

    That's thinking long term

    How long is long enough for you??

  • Guiteau

    26 July 2010 2:32AM

    No top-of-page coverage at all. Wh'appen?! Did you give a shit about pre-enlightenment fascists torturing girls this morning, but come this afternoon you give less of a shit?

    If they're fascists they can't be pre-Enlightenment. Fascism is a child of the Enlightenment. Weird, huh?

    ***

    Confirmation of what was already suspected: colonial armies tend to slog through a sewer of blood to achieve their aims-- or, in this case, in the process of failing to achieve their aims. The question is, will the documents from wikileaks create enough political pressure to put an end to this carnage?

  • Dravazed

    26 July 2010 2:39AM

    All honor to Wikileaks and to its leading light, Julian. I hope he has a safe house. Given the kind of people who run the American empire, nothing can be ruled out as a real possibility .

    Wikileaks and those who make it possible may be the last, best hope of those who wish for something other than globalized tyranny and its endless internal warfare.

  • promixcuous

    26 July 2010 2:44AM

    Of course mistakes and atrocities are going to be committed during a war, even by the best of armies.

    We need to be asking why we're in Afghanistan. And, that has to do with Saudi-funded militants with worldwide terrorist ambitions and Saudi-funded Pakistani "intelligence" who appear to be utterly two faced and, in the end, working to aid the Islamists. These are the people who are ultimately responsible for the war and its horrors.

    Perhaps we ought to be bringing the fight to those who are the Taliban's backers--in Islamabad and Riyadh.

  • stint

    26 July 2010 2:48AM

    Iran are helping the Taliban

    Attack Iran
    Attack Pakistan

    CIA Joe (thanks Wikileaks)

  • promixcuous

    26 July 2010 2:49AM

    @Arcane:

    The Taliban are not Al Qaeda and pose no threat to Washington, New York, London or Sydney

    I'm sorry, did you miss what happened on 9/11? What a fool statement.

  • RandomMusings

    26 July 2010 2:53AM

    It is indeed well past time for America and NATO to depart Afghanistan. This has been a misguided war built on a profound lack of understanding of history; America's and Afghanistan's.

    For the moment we can set aside the issue of Afghanistan being the "graveyard of empires" and turn our attention to the American history of prosecuting unwinnable wars for ostensibly noble aims but which in reality are created and continued through fabrication and denial. Notable in this category was Vietnam, where America spilled blood (our own and others') and money to no good end, but with endless justification by politicians from both major parties. The lack of candor evident in the Vietnamese conflict has been carried over to a new generation of American leadership, with the same result: abject failure.

    It is not that I look for a return to the good old days of Taliban rule - that served no good interest. But the reality is that we are ceding this war to the Taliban through our actions. We are not winning hearts, we are not winning minds, and we are not winning battles. If there is any hope for an Afghanistan that is not mired in conflict and that has respect for the law it is imperative that we take the first step, with respect for morality and for the ideals that we mouth but don't live, and walk away. It can't be any worse than what we are doing through ineptitude and lies.

  • hallowed

    26 July 2010 3:06AM

    THERE WAS NO ACCOUNABILITY IN IRAQ

    NOW EVIDENCE CLEARS THAT THE SAME CRIME'S ARE HAPPENING

    IN AFGANISTAN

    SURLEY THE TIME HAS COME FOR ... WAR CRIME'S IN THE HAGUE

  • megvia

    26 July 2010 3:30AM

    The circular irony in the entire Afghan situation is impossible to ignore for a civilian bystander, so how is it that elected officials (who surely to God oh please tell me have at the very least read history as far back as 1979) can ignore it. The US, and more specifically the CIA trained and armed the early Taliban as a fundamentalist insurgency to fight off the Soviet invasion in what was yet another US/USSR proxy war. Now the Taliban shoot US and NATO troops from the skies with said weaponry, trained by us. Worst case they use Soviet remnant weaponry but again, trained by us. So we gathered them, trained them, funded them, armed them and used them, and then they turned on us? No. Never. Surely they weren't just using us as a means to an end ie to see out the current imperialist aggressor, in that case, the Soviets. Surely they would not subsequently see us as the same. We're no different in their eyes. And now, we're funding our Pakistan "allies" - and only because they're nuclear capable - we're training them, sharing our intel and we're somehow surprised that they're likewise turning on us? Oh just shoot me. But then save me. So I can, in return, shoot you. With your own weapon.

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