x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Afghans welcome release of secret war files by the WikiLeaks website

In Kabul, politicians say Nato allies must explain why so many lives have been lost to a war strategy that is not working.

KABUL //The publication of thousands of secret US military files chronicling the Afghan war has been welcomed on the ground here and led to calls for greater transparency from Washington and its allies.

Up to 92,000 secret US military records were released by WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website, bringing swift condemnation from the White House and a public relations counter-offensive by Nato. The documents give an unprecedented inside view of the war from January 2004 to December 2009. They include horrific accounts of civilians being killed by foreign troops in incidents that were either hidden or misrepresented by the military in an apparent effort to conceal the truth.

There is annoyance here that these issues have been downplayed or covered up for so long and hope that the publication of the files, which were shared with The Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel may finally open the world's eyes to the situation. Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, a member of parliament representing Kabul, said information released would be of most "benefit" to citizens of the US and Europe. "In those countries that are involved in Afghanistan - especially America - their citizens should know what is going on, what their government's strategy is and why it is not tackling such problems," she said.

"This should at least make their governments accountable for losing their sons and their tax money." The release of the documents also drew comparisons to the 1971 publication by The New York Times and The Washington Post of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that the US government knew early in the conflict that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, and fuelled street protests. Ahmad Nader Nadery, a commissioner for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said there had been "a state of denial on the part of the military in acceptance of the larger number of civilians being killed" during the years examined by the documents.

"The military forces and the spokespersons were always giving a lower figure than what was happening on the ground," he added. He warned that any evidence of cover-ups would undermine a counter-insurgency strategy that is meant to have the protection of civilians, accountability and transparency at its heart. "If it's now revealed that that was not the case questions will be raised and the way the US government handles this from now on will really form the future perceptions of the people," he said.

Other issues brought to light by the documents are the growing use of aerial drones and CIA paramilitaries, and the existence of Task Force 373, a covert special operations unit whose job is to hunt down and capture or kill insurgent leaders. Mr Nadery said a global debate, ideally involving the UN, has been needed about what is legally permissible in this and other wars. Any pursuit of the Taliban must be carried out "within the framework of international law, especially the Geneva Conventions", he said.

Least surprisingly to people here, the documents claim that Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency has been giving extensive support to the rebels, including holding strategy meetings with them, supplying them with equipment and even plotting to kill the president, Hamid Karzai. Such allegations have been made by officials in Kabul for years and across the country there has long been widespread suspicion directed towards Islamabad.

At a press conference yesterday, Waheed Omar, Mr Karzai's spokesman, summed up the lack of surprise. "The president's reaction was that most of this is not new and has been discussed in the past, and has often been raised in the past with our international partners," he said. How all these revelations play out in the towns and villages, however, is another matter. They could well add to the sense that the US and its allies are not genuinely interested in bringing peace.

As chief editor of the daily newspaper, Weesa, Mohammed Zubair Shafiqi has readers in many of the southern and eastern provinces most affected by the fighting. "After these reports Afghans will take the decision that the international community, especially the US, does not have the right to shoot one bullet in Afghanistan because they know better than us that there is nothing here and everything is Pakistan. They should change their strategy and move it to the other side," he said.

Failure to learn from the mistakes revealed in the documents would, Mr Shafiqi added, lead them to the "same shameful defeat" as the Soviet Union experienced here. csands@thenational.ae