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     Sep 17, 2010
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'Death to America, death to Obama'
By Nick Turse

In July, the whistle-blower organization Wikileaks made a six-year archive of tens of thousands of classified military documents, dealing with the United States war in Afghanistan, available on the Internet.

They also gave advance access to a select few publications, including the New York Times and the British Guardian. In its initial coverage, the Times led with allegations contained in the documents that America's ally, Pakistan, allowed members of its spy service to meet and conspire with members of the Taliban.

The Guardian, instead, primarily focused on the unreported


killings of Afghan civilians, beginning its lead article by declaring: "A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents."

In the first days after the story broke, Wikileaks' website was nearly impossible to navigate, as web-users flocked to take a look at the documents. The Internet was then abuzz with talk of crowd-sourced analysis and yet, weeks later, in-depth investigations of other key contents of the archive that were initially ignored have been few and far between - with most media outlets and bloggers seemingly content to wait for Wikileaks to unveil a second batch of Afghan war documents - roughly 15,000 in all - in the days or weeks ahead.

Much, however, remains to be learned from the first cache of files that comprise Wikileaks' "Afghan War Diary" - from the fact that Pakistani military personnel apparently were present at a forward operating base in Afghanistan during an incident of cultural insensitivity that a US officer called "regrettable", to the effects of the war on ordinary Afghans, and to the mindset of US officers leading America's troops in the war-ravaged country. What follows are just four examples of the type of material that await those willing to wade deeper into the files on Wikileaks' website.

'Death to Obama'
Even a cursory examination of the Wikileaks files reveals the existence of a vibrant and vocal Afghan protest movement - above and beyond recent protests against actual and proposed Koran-burning in the United States - typified by street demonstrations against various strata of the Afghan government as well as the United States and its coalition allies.

For example, on December 4, 2009, US troops at Combat Outpost (COP) Michigan, in the center of the Pech River Valley and near the mouth of the Korengal Valley, fired an anti-tank missile, known as a TOW, at five Afghans who were spotted in what had been a past enemy fighting position.

The documents refer to the men as both LNs, or local nationals, and AAFs (anti-Afghan forces) and mention weapons being spotted, but not hostile actions, or even intent, being evidenced. Soon after the strike, an Afghan man wounded by the missile was brought to the COP for treatment, but died. Then the corpse of another victim of the strike was brought to the outpost.

Later that day, 100 Afghan locals massed and were "blocking the road by [the] Kandigal Bazzar" using a boulder, concertina wire and fires as their barricade. A spot report noted, "Protesters are organized and are moving toward COP Michigan. Crowd has grown larger and now has a Taliban flag."

As the "LNs" converged on the outpost, US-allied Afghan troops ineffectually fired warning shots to disperse the crowd. US troops manning the COP's guard towers then stood down as local elders were called in to help diffuse the situation.

Meanwhile, according to US Army documents, 100 "LNs [we]re chanting ‘Death to America' ‘Death to Obama'." Afghan troops would later inform the US that the protest actually concerned two Afghan children from Ahmar Village in Konar province who were killed a day earlier by long-range fire. The US disputed the claim, alleging no children had been slain and instead chalking it up to Taliban propaganda.

The December 2009 "Death to Obama" incident is, however, only one of hundreds of Afghan protests, demonstrations and riots mentioned in the Wikileaks document dump. A glance at just some of the other protests that same month - the most recent in the Wikileaks files - gives an indication of both popular Afghan discontent and a willingness to take to the streets to demand action.

On December 8, for example, Afghans who were, according to US documents, "protesting the fact that the representative they voted for to represent them in Kabul was not allowed to go, but someone else was picked to represent them that they did not vote for", blocked road traffic to air their grievances.

On December 10, 400 to 500 Afghans in Kabul assembled to protest in the name of peace and in support of war victims as well as against the "infringement of human rights in Afghanistan", say US documents. Peaceful protests by civilians in Nanghahar province, who believed their votes in a provincial council election were not counted, also took place on December 21.

On December 23 near COP Zormat in Paktia province, local Afghans staged a protest against a recent coalition forces' military operation in the area. On December 27, according to a US report, a crowd of 400 converged on the governor's compound in Nanghahar province shouting "death to the governor".

The protesters - whom the Americans classified as "cranky" but "non-violent" - were allegedly upset that their "votes weren't counted" in provincial elections. Later, US reports recast the demonstration as "about street vendors being outlawed and them wanting either new jobs or street vending legalized". While on December 30, Afghan civilians gathered in Jalalabad City to protest the alleged killings of civilians, in Konar province, by coalition forces.

'Smoking hash'
While rampant opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has regularly made headlines over the course of the US occupation, coverage of drug use by Afghans has been largely confined to articles about the staggering scope of the drug problem. (It has, in fact, been estimated that there are approximately one million Afghans addicted to opium, heroin and other drugs.)

Wikileaks' documents, however, offer a more intimate view of war-weary Afghans' efforts at self-medication, just who is involved with drugs and US attitudes toward drug use by locals.

A December 2009 document, for example, notes that previous searches of the quarters of Afghan forces based at Forward Operating Base Costell had "turned up drugs". Nor was this an isolated incident. "During the inspection of the old district center the PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team] wandered into a room full of ANP [Afghan National Police] smoking hash," reads one December 2006 document.

It continues: "ANP uniforms were found around the compound thrown into trash heaps or stashed in containers. The police stated that wearing a uniform was a death sentence."

When a US combat patrol entered Bashikheyl village in October 2007, "the patrol leader noticed several (5 or 6) hypodermic needles scattered around on the ground." An analyst comment inserted in the documents reads:
It is likely that these needles were used to shoot heroine [sic]. Generally poor villagers smoke hashish or smoke opium-laced cigarettes. The fact that these were probably used for heroine [sic] may suggest ACM [anti-coalition militia] presence as the locals do not have the money to buy it.
Another unrelated report noted that a local official was "usually high on drugs and does not work well with the community".

'They don't have the balls to fight ... they hide like women'
Documents released by Wikileaks also outline the ways in which the US military attempts to influence foreign civilians through propaganda, misinformation, and tough talk that can descend into adolescent name-calling, macho boasts and outright misogyny. 

Continued 1 2  

Whose hands? Whose blood?
(Aug 7, '10)

Leaks make war policy vulnerable
(Jul 28, '10)



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