The Wikileaks website has released its controversial 'Afghan War Diary' (AWD), a 91,000-file collection of reports detailing disturbing and previously unreported incidents involving US and other NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The core of the AWD appears to be made up of reports from soldiers and intelligence officers outlining a variety of events, plus a number of analyses of the war and political situation, and notes from meetings between officials.
According to The Guardian newspaper, one of three newspapers to be given full access to the files, incidents include French NATO soldiers strafing a school bus full of children, the mortaring of a village by Polish troops, and the shooting by British soldiers of the
son of an Afghan general.
In total, 144 incidents are detailed in which NATO troops were known to have fired on Afghan civilians, with an unknown toll in terms of deaths and injuries. A large umber of deaths caused by Taliban roadside bombs are also related.
Almost as disturbing as the indidents described is the fact that many appear not to have been reported before, which underlines the extent to which many aspects of the war in Afghanistan remains partly hidden to Western populations.
Other reports will make uncomfortable reading for political leaders in the West, including that a special forces unit has operated to hunt down and kill or capture top Taliban leaders, and the fact that US intelligence officials believe the Taliban is extensively aided by Pakistan and possibly Iran.
Much of this is as would be expected, and the fact that the Taliban have outside help is almost taken as read by those who follow the Conduct of the war. What the the release of the files has done is underline in concrete terms the thinking and suspicions of US and other officials.
“Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organisations that these documents would be posted,” White House National Security Adviser James Jones was quoted as saying in an email to reporters.
The unresolved question is how Wikileaks came across such sensitive files. Many believe the leak to be connected with the arrest of Bradley Manning, a US Army intelligence officer who is accused of sending the site the now infamous 'collateral murder' video earlier this year, which appears to show US helicopter pilots firing on and killing Iraqi civilians. His involvement in the release of the AWD files remains unconfirmed.
There has been talk of an equally harrowing follow-up video showing a similar incident from the war in Afghanistan. If it exists, it has yet to be released by Wikileaks.
Wikileaks has itemised the AWD reports, which date between 2004 and late 2009 or early 2010, on its website, but has sent their full contents to selected newspapers, including The New York Times, the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian.