The soldiers appear to have been correct to have felt they were under a state of siege. The documents that have been obtained are comprised primarily of so-called “threat reports,” thousands of danger scenarios and concrete warnings about planned attacks. These reports provide a clearer picture of the deterioration of the security situation in northern Afghanistan than the information provided by the German government or the federal parliament, the Bundestag, which must provide a legal mandate for the Bundeswehr’s deployments abroad. Police checkpoints are constantly attacked or come under fire, patrols are targeted in deadly ambushes and roadside bombs explode.
The left-wing magazine concludes its story with an ominous diagnosis for the future of the mountainous northern combat zone in which the German army is fighting.
One thing, however, is certain. These thousands of documents indicate that, after almost nine years of war, a victory in Hindu Kush looks farther away than ever.
Across the Channel, The Guardian offers the kind of excellent interactive, video-packed online package we’ve come to expect from the newspaper industry’s Web leader. Covering the basic revelations of the documents, its reporting is steered by an outrage at the number of unreported civilian casualties unveiled by the WikiLeaks logs (you can see the number and location of these casualties—along with casualties among Afghan and coalition troops—in an interactive map from The Guardian here.)
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.”