30 Jul 2010

Taliban hunt WikiLeaks outed Afghan informers

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

War files: the Taliban issues a chilling warning to Afghans, alleged to have worked as informers for the Nato-led coalition, telling Channel 4 News ‘US spies” will be hunted down and punished.

Members of the Taliban pose in front of burnt supply trucks in Ghazni province. (Reuters)

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Zabihullah Mujahid told Channel 4 News that the Taliban will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate.

“We are studying the report,” he said, confirming that the insurgent group already has access to the 92,000 intelligence documents and field reports.

We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with US forces. Zabihullah Mujahid

“We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with US forces. We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the US. If they are US spies, then we know how to punish them.”

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last night that America has a “moral responsibility” to protect those who might be in danger.

“This department is conducting a thorough, aggressive investigation to determine how this leak occurred, to identify the person or persons responsible, and to assess the content of the information compromised,” he said.

“The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies, and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world,” he added.

WikiLeaks: damage is done say human rights groups

The Taliban regularly executes those accused of collaborating. Methods of execution include public hangings, beheadings, shootings and in one recent incident, strapping two alleged traitors to explosives before detonating them in public.

Zabihullah Mujahid said that the Taliban had come to know of the leaked secret documents through media reports.

There has been concern among media organisations, including Channel 4 News, about the ethics of publishing some of these reports, even though the material is now openly available on the internet.

Secret war files: Afghanistan to Iraq

We, in common with other news organisations, have redacted parts of the text, including names of individuals, which might make it possible to identify people. But the raw material is viewable online.

In four days of trawling through the files, which are at times difficult to decipher due to the use of military acronyms, Channel 4 News has discovered scores of reports referring to named informers and collaborators. Many of these reports give the exact location of the individual concerned, their tribe, the names of other family members and other biographical details which make them readily identifiable.

Even individuals that are not named can be traced through the information they’ve supplied – whether it’s from their attendance of secret meetings or from their apparently precise knowledge of covert weapons shipments or the movements and locations of top Taliban commanders.

Prior to leaking the documents, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, told Channel 4 News that his team had reviewed the material and withheld 15,000 documents they deemed sensitive. Asked whether the leaks could cost lives, he said: “I think it’s unlikely that this will happen. We’ve worked hard to make sure there’s not a significant chance of anybody coming to harm.”

But in the same interview, with Afghanistan specialist journalist Stephen Grey, Mr Assange admitted that “the journalist team that we put together on this has only just scratched the surface.” One security expert has condemned the leak of material naming informers as “negligent and immoral.”

Who Knows Who: Julian Assange

In one leaked intelligence report, a named villager reports the location of a forthcoming meeting where 300-400 Taliban are due to assemble. Details of his tribe and his village are provided as is his designation: “Informant”.

In another example, a pro-government Mullah and his son – who are named – are reported to have disclosed the location of a roadside bomb, intended to target coalition forces. Now the Mullah and his son can themselves be targeted.

Ironically, the coalition reconstruction teams – who work in villages to improve infrastructure and security for local people – are the source of the reports naming Afghan village elders who assist them.

Afghan war log from 2004: 
While patrolling near the village of ###########, US special forces spoke with ###### ##### of the ###### tribe. ###### stated that one of the locals was working in the vicinity of a mountain region called ###### ### #### located (Grids). While in the ###### ### #### mountain range he saw rockets getting launched on ## ### 04. ###### also stated that rockets had been fired from the village of ##### ### in the vicinity of (grid). Which is the same area that the Mujahideen had used against the Russians.

While speaking to ###### ####, ### security found a freshly dug area on the outskirts of the compound. ### began to dig and found 20 cases of ### ammunition. The compound belonged to ########## whose father is in #### ####. This individual had no explanation why the ammunition was recently buried, but was honest about the weapons that he had. ########## assumed his father had buried it without telling him. US special forces then secured ##########.

Once secured, other locals began to bring US special forces ammunition they had buried or stored within their compounds. ####### had 30 cases of ### ammunition and ####### had 14 cases of ### ammunition. All families had the same answer for having the ammunition. They stated it was left over from the Mujahideen time and they had buried it about two years earlier to hide it from the Taliban. They made no attempt to hide their weapons and offered them to US special forces without incident.

Dozens of the reports from Afghan informers also name alleged Taliban insurgents, including top commanders and Taliban “volunteers” who are trained as suicide bombers. These individuals too are in danger of being targeted – there is no proof that the allegations that they belong to the insurgents have not been fabricated by the accusers.

It is also impossible to verify whether those named as informants are informants at all. Some of the files indicate suspicion, on the part of their US military authors, that those providing information may be attempting to draw coalition forces into personal blood feuds.

President Hamid Karzai called the disclosure of named Afghan informers “extremely irresponsible and shocking.”

“Whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the Nato forces, their lives will be in danger now,” he said.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, is reportedly reviewing tens of thousands of the classified battlefield reports to determine whether those identified could be at risk of reprisal.

A Pentagon spokesman said: “The naming of individuals could cause potential problems, both to their physical safety or willingness to continue support to coalition forces or the Afghan government.”