In the Web site’s anchor story on the leaked documents, “Afghanistan war logs: massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation,” writers Nick Davies and David Leigh paint a picture of a botched war in which coalition troops, either through confusion or self-protection, have killed and maimed civilians. The incendiary lede touches on the key revelations of the reports:

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, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

Then, the bulk of this central report is given to detailing previously unknown incidents in which Afghan civilians were killed. Again, the local focus means highlighted sections of the report focus on British and European troops.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.



Bloody errors at civilians’ expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.



Questionable shootings of civilians by UK troops also figure. The US compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: “Investigation controlled by the British. We are not able to get [sic] complete story.”

The hot language—“bloody errors at civilians’ expense”—and assumptions that there is an underestimate, are typical of The Guardian’s approach to the WikiLeaks documents, a trove of records it describes as “an unvarnished and often compelling account of the reality of modern war.”

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.