Iraq’s secret war logs published by WikiLeaks show Iraqi civilians were attacked by US Apache Hellfire missiles and in some instances fighters were killed when trying to surrender.
Warning: You may find some of the details in this report and the accompanying video disturbing.
Channel 4 News has looked at some of the incidents outlined in the Wikileaks Iraq war logs. Despite the US claiming on a number of occasions that it did not do body counts of Iraqi civilians, the Iraq war logs reveal that they did.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) has teamed up with Channel 4 Dispatches to go through the 400,000 files. Channel 4 News is the only British broadcaster to be given exclusive access to what they found.
TBIJ and Dispatches found evidence within the Iraq war logs that civilians appeared to be killed by air attack. On some occasions Iraqis, who may or may not have been insurgents, appeared to be killed by air attack even as they tried to surrender to coalition forces.
The below animation shows the number of Hellfire strikes in Iraq from 2004 to 2009.
US Pentagon statement:
Statement from US Pentagon:We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies. We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large.
By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible.
One incident was recorded in 2005 during Operation Steel Curtain which was an attack on insurgents crossing the border in Iraq. Within the report “collateral damage” is recorded. “Collateral damage”, meaning civilian casualties.
Lieutenant Colonel John Harris, USAF Commander of 15th Reconnaissance Squadron was interviewed by an American journalist for ABC about the operation. In the interview Lt Col Harris appeared to be uncertain of whether or not civilians had been killed.
Asked if he thought there had been any civilians killed in Steel Curtain Lt Col Harris replied: “I don’t know of any friendly fire. I can’t say that they were or they weren’t. I can’t say that, the command and control is such, that our leadership is very cognizant of the areas in which we employ this weapon.
“We do our absolute best to make sure that collateral damage is minimized in every case.”
The Iraq war log for that incident appears to suggest that up to 28 civilians were killed.
It says: “## ISO (in support of) Steel Curtain reported finding civilian bodies buried in (3) separate locations in ########. At (### ## ### ###), (3) females, (3) males, and (1) child were recovered. At (### ## ### ###), (7) females, and (10) children were recovered. At (### ## ### ###), (1) child was unable to be recovered. All recovery operations and burials were conducted by the ISF (Iraqi security forces). Neighbours positively identified all the remains and the father identified the remains of the child that was unable to be recovered. All casualties were recovered from areas attacked by coalition aircraft.”
The father identified the remains of the child that was unable to be recovered.
The report ends by stating that the coalition forces were engaged with insurgents in the area using CAS (close air support). It then states: “It was not known that civilians were present on targets during time of CAS engagement”.
Hellfire air attacks: the 'surge'
In 2007 George W Bush appointed new commander General David Petraeus, who now leads Isaf (Nato International Security Assistance Force) forces in Afghanistan, to lead US forces in the fight against insurgents in Iraq. He introduced new tactics on the ground intended to protect civilians and target insurgents with more precision. The tactic was known as the "surge". This involved using CAS (close air support) more often.
From the raw data TBIJ and Dispatches found that some 80 per cent of Hellfire missiles (fired by aircraft) were fired after General Petraeus's surge began - over 1,300.
In now notorious footage first leaked to WikiLeaks entitled “Collateral Murder”, and broadcast around the world we can see an example of innocent civilians being killed by an Apache helicopter. The footage, filmed from the cockpit, shows an incident in which two Reuters journalists are killed and two children wounded after the helicopter opened fire.
Moments later in the same footage, a man who appears to be a civilian is walking past a building. The Apache then fires three hellfire missiles into the building after the pilot claims six insurgents are hiding in it. The man is caught in the blast, yet in the war log there appears to be no reference to a dead civilian.
In the war log it states: “13 x AIF KIA (Anti-Iraqi forces killed in action), 2 x AIF WIA (Anti-Iraqi forces wounded in action), 2 LN children WIA (local national children wounded in action)”.
No mention of 1 x LN adult KIA or WIA.
Another incident covered in the Iraq war logs involved a group of children minding sheep and goats being mistaken as insurgents planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The call-sign “Carnage 27” let off 50 rounds from an Apache machine gun and launched one hellfire missile, killing a child.
The report says: “The AWT (aerial weapons team) conducted a laser spot handover of the 5 x IED emplacers who were trying to blend in with a sheep herd at #####.
“After confirming PID (positive identification) through BFT (blue force tracker) with Gunfighter X-Ray, the lead A/C (aircraft) (LB17) engaged 2 x IED emplacers at ##### with 1 x K2A observing positive target effect and followed at 1116C with 30 x 30mm (30 rounds) at ## #### ####. The lead A/C (aircraft) observed 1 x IN ACTION’>EKIA (enemy killed in action) who was still at the engagement location and 1 x IN ACTION’>EWIA (enemy wounded in action) who had egressed to the bank of the river that ran parallel to ASR (alternative supply route) Golden. The trail A/C (aircraft) (LB02) maintained PID (positive identification) on one of the fleeing individuals and engaged at ##### with 20 x 30mm (20 rounds) at ## #### ####.”
So one of the alleged IED emplacers or insurgents was killed in action and the others were shot at as they fled the area in the field. One was wounded in action.
But the report later concludes that the EID emplacers were not actually insurgents – they were children.
Right after the bang there was smoke everywhere, so we went after Ali and found only flesh left… we started screaming.
The war log states: “The QRF (quick reaction force) element was told by the CIVs (civilians) on site that it was (6) children digging for roots to use as fire wood. After the (1) 13-year old boy was killed the other children ran out of fear. The people at the house walked the IA (Iraqi Army) unit through the entire incident and led them to the site of the engagement. There was no evidence of an IED found. The IA unit was also shown the tools used for digging and white bags of roots with sand in the bottom. ##### conducted an explosive residue spray test returning a negative result.”
So the Iraq war log reveals that it had been a mistake and six innocent children had been attacked by the coalition aircraft with a hellfire missile and numerous rounds. One child was killed and another wounded.
TBIJ and Dispatches went to meet some of the survivors in Iraq and they spoke of their experience.
One boy said: “Suddenly there was a noise, a bang in front of us. Right after the bang there was smoke everywhere, so we went after Ali and found only flesh left…we started screaming.”
The uncle of the dead boy Ali told TBIJ and Dispatches what happened: “We heard the noise of an explosion and we hastily went to the location of the incident and saw the children shouting. Alawi got ripped to pieces. We arrived at the location and the child ripped completely, torn to pieces. We collected him piece by piece. We had to collect the head from a distance of more than 100 metres away, the arm and hand was more than 100 metres away. We collected him and wrapped him in a blanket.”
As part of a separate leaked video which was broadcast by Liveleak a suspected Iraqi insurgent is followed by an Apache helicopter. On the video we see the vehicle stop and he gets out into open ground with his hands held up in the air. We do not know if he is surrendering, but it appears that he is in the video. Moments later he is engaged by the Apache.
In the Iraq war log of this incident it makes no mention of the Iraqi trying to surrender or getting out of his vehicle.
The Iraq war log says: “CAS call-sign “Big Gun 74” on scene and picks up pursuit. After positive identification from UAV, “Big Gun 74″ given authorisation to engage the vehicle. Vehicle engaged and destroyed at ###### ####. 1 x AIF KIA (Anti-Iraqi force killed in action) on side of road.”
In another incident TBIJ and Dispatches found reported in the Iraq war logs, it suggests surrendering Iraqis are engaged by an aircraft.
Lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.
The pilot questions if he can engage with the surrendering Iraqis and the military lawyer tells him he can. The pilot of the Apache then engages with them, killing two men.
In the Iraq war log it states: “Crazyhorse 18 reports AIF (Anti-Iraqi forces) got into a dumptruck headed north, engaged and then they came out wanting to surrender.
“Crazyhorse 18 cleared to engage dumptruck. #### lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.
“Crazyhorse 18 reports they missed with hellfire and individuals have ran into another shack.
“### approves Crazyhorse 18 to engage shack.
“Crazyhorse 18 reports engaged and destroyed shack with 2 x AIF (Anti-Iraqi forces). BDA is shack/dumptruck destroyed.”
It then concludes “2 x AIF KIA”, which is two Anti-Iraqi forces killed in action.
So the Iraq war log clearly shows that the pilot thought the Iraqis were trying to surrender. He asked what he was able to do and the call came back from the “lawyer” to engage with the Iraqis because “they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets”.
In some of the Iraq war logs there is also evidence that coalition aircraft held back from firing or engaging with Iraqis who appeared to be surrendering.
In one report is says: “## ## engaged the white truck with 8 rockets vicinity grid ## #### ####. The 2 x LNs (local nationals) got out of the truck and surrendered to ## ##. #######, alternate QRF (quick reaction force), responded and detained the 2 x LNs.”
So here the Iraqis have surrendered and are not being engaged with by the aircraft.
Another Iraq war log states: “SWT (Scout weapons team) (#######) was cleared to engage the remaining pax (person). The pax was wounded and surrendered. ####### and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) moved on scene and detained the IN ACTION’>EWIA (enemy wounded in action).
Again the injured Iraqi surrenders and the coalition forces detain him rather than kill him.
Finally, another war log states: “3x IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI (three al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents) that fled to the north on a white motorcycle. Carnage 26 (SWT) (Scout weapons team), and Wicked 51 (Airscan) maintained PID (positive identification) of the 3x IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI, SWT was then cleared to engage upon confirmation of IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI. The engagement resulted in 2x IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI KIA (two al Qaeda insurgents killed in action), and
1x IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI surrendering (one al Qaeda in Iraq insurgent surrendering).
“SWT maintained visual apprehension of the 1x IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI until CF (coalition forces) arrived at their location to detain the IN IRAQ’>AQI/ISI.”
So two al Qaeda insurgents are killed by the coalition forces aircraft, but one survives, surrenders and is detained.