26 Jul 2010

Afghan files: Task Force 373 – the Taliban hunters

As the founder of WikiLeaks claims there is evidence of “war crimes” in n secret Afghan war logs, Channel 4 News analyses claims Task Force 373 appeared to botch attempts to kill al-Qaida operatives.



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’.

There does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material. Julian Assange

“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.”

Us flag in Afghanistan. (Reuters)

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.


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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 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”.

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. (Getty)

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.

WikiLeaks war files: Afghanistan’s hidden war

“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 11 September 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.”