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Afghan files: Task Force 373 - the Taliban hunters

By Kris Jepson, Ed Fraser

Updated on 26 July 2010

As the founder of Wikileaks claims there is "prima-facie" evidence of "war crimes" within secret Afghan documents written by US military forces, Channel 4 News analyses claims Task Force 373 appeared to botch attempts to kill al-Qaida operatives.

US flag in Afghanistan (Reuters)

The founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange told journalists that there is "prima-facie evidence" of war crimes in the 90,000 leaked documents from US military field reports in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009.

Assange said: "I can only speak about this issue in general, however it is up to a court to decide, clearly whether something is in the end a 'crime'.

"That said prima facie, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material.

"The example is the Task Force 373 Himars missile strike on a house which killed seven children."

TF 373 - The Taliban hunters
The US Special Forces unit tasked with carrying out assassinations is called Task Force 373.

Reports in the Wikileaks documents show how the special forces of Task Force 373 botched an attempt to kill the al-Qaida leader Abu Laith al-Libi which ended in the deaths of seven children. Al-Libi was believed to have been a training camp leader for al-Qaida and the Taliban and appeared in a number of videos with al-Qaida's second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The military report of the incident states:
The following information (TF-373 and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) is Classified Secret / Not for Onpass to Foreign Nationals. The knowledge that TF-373 conducted a HIMARS strike must be kept protected. All other information below is classified Secret / REL ISAF.

According to another field report a TF 373 attack on a village leaves seven Afghan National Police (ANP) officers dead.

The documents also apparently reveal that TF 373 were using high tech "Himars" missiles, which are high-mobility artillery rocket systems, previously unknown to be used by the US special force. 

Names on the Task Forces kill or capture lists also appear in the documents.

Read more on the alleged incidents that led to previously unreported civilian casualties

According to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the procedure for getting named on the list is very dubious: "There are many reports discussing the assassination lists that the US military have - hundreds, maybe thousands of people on these lists. We can see bungled operations, special forces go in to kill an alleged Taliban or al-Qaida, fire off missiles, kill seven children and in fact the target wasn't there."

Assange continues: "We can see how these lists are probably abused. There's no judicial process or review. We can see governors, local warlords, unhappy with a competitor and they nominate them to go onto these assassination lists. It's something quite interesting and serious and they are called JPEL - Joint Priority Effects Lists."

The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange believes that Task Force 373 got out of control: "There needs to be more information on how those lists are maintained, how you get on the lists, how you get off the list - that needs to be investigated."

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Assange says the files reveal countless untold incidents: "US forces just saw some unexploded ordinance and instead of ignoring it, or shooting it, they called in an airstrike - and then a village was hit and 17 people were taken to hospital. We don't know how many lived or died."

ISI Pakistan links to al-Qaida
The Wikileaks documents also show that according to intelligence received by the US military, the Inter-services intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, are involved in many different ways in Afghanistan.

One incident Wikileaks tells Channel 4 News is a warning that ISI agents and five al-Qaida operatives are working together on a mission, crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out an attack.

One of the most interesting incidents, Wikileaks says is an attempt by an ISI officer to assassinate Afghan president Hamid Karzai, through a Taliban contact.

ISI Karzai assassination plot
In the field report 52171, filed on 22 August 2008, it says that a Pakistani intelligence officer has targeted Afghan president Karzai for assassination.

It then states that a colonel from the ISI had directed a Taliban official to "see that Karzai was assassinated".

(Revealed: details of an alleged Pakistani plot to assassinate President Hamid Karzai)

The report then says that the Taliban official assigned an individual from the Sarowbi district to assassinate Karzai in a suicide mission at the presidential palace. According to the report there is no information as to how or when this assassination was to be carried out.

Channel 4 News has seen these classified documents, but has been unable to independently verify their authenticity.

Wikileaks Editor Julian Assange told Channel 4 News: "Well there are allegations in there from human intelligence reports - informers talking to the US military about the ISI including attempts to assassinate President Karzai.

Read more from our exclusive interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

"There is a lot of material in there about Pakistan, about the ISI, crossing over the border, firing over border, firing by US troops from Afghanistan into Pakistan, drones over flights and even a plot by the ISI to assassinate Karzai." 

Pakistan's ISI (or Inter-Services Intelligence agency) has throughout its 62 years of existence played a unique and rarely uncontroversial role, wedged tightly between its handling of the country's relations with the West and of those Pakistanis who support violent jihad.
Founded shortly after Pakistan gained its independence in 1947, the ISI reached its highest profile when Soviet forces invaded neighbouring Afghanistan just over 30 years later. Through much of the 1980s the agency trained and equipped tens of thousands of the mujahideen fighters who streamed to wage jihad against the Russians.
Crucially the ISI also helped distribute the CIA-supplied Stinger missiles that all but ended hitherto lethal offensives by Soviet planes & helicopters. (This unusual alliance of hardline Islamists and Capitalist ideologues against a shared Communist enemy leads some commentators to blame the West for itself setting in train the forces that would strike it on September 11 2001.)
With Moscow defeated, the ISI began the 1990s by supporting the creation of the Afghan Taliban to preserve Pakistan's strategic influence in the region. But, long after the US-led coalition claimed victory in 2001 in routing the Taliban from Kabul, many analysts have accused elements within the ISI of continuing to train and support the jihadists against the West.

Julian Assange said: "Now a number of these reports, including the assassinate plot, could be erroneous. These are informers coming and saying 'I heard this guy is involved in an assassinate plot', a lot of these are probably burns and designed to take out a competitor or enemy, it doesn't mean the allegations are true.

"That's what is true about the material - it reveals how difficult the intelligence environment is when there are incentives to say information for money.

"As a result, military command can say anything they want about what is happening. There is always a man in Afghanistan or Pakistan who is willing to say the right thing." 

Military acronyms and abbreviations: what they mean
AAF - Anti Afghanistan forces (Taliban)
AC-130 - Spectre gunship (heavily armed seek and destroy aircraft)
ANA - Afghan National Army
AWT - Advanced weapons team
CJSOTF – Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force
EKIA – Enemy killed in action
EOM - End of message
ETT - Engineer training team
EWIA – Enemy wounded in action
FF - Friendly forces
HIMARS - High mobility artillery rocket system
ISAF - International Security and Assistance Force
JEL - Joint Effects List (low priority capture/kill list)
JPEL - Joint Priority Effects List (Special Forces kill/capture list)
KAF – Kandahar Air Field
MEDEVAC – Medical evacuation
NC - Non combatants (Civilians)
NOFORM - Not for release to foreign nationals
OBJ - Objective or target
RPG – Rocket propelled grenade
RPK - Soviet made light machine gun
SAF - Small arms fire
TB - Taliban
TIC - Troops in contact
WIA - Wounded in action
Z – Zulu time. This refers to GMT which is standard for Nato military forces 

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