A milestone was reached on June 7, 2010, when the war in Afghanistan became the longest military conflict in Unites States history. For years the media was saturated with reports of civilians in deplorable living conditions, atrocities committed by the Taliban, and inadvertent civilian casualties. The endless media coverage caused many to become desensitized to war’s inherent barbarity. But thanks to the efforts of the government watchdog site WikiLeaks, America has been reminded about the extent of the inhumanity which war begets.
On Sunday WikiLeaks posted tens of thousands of secret military documents in a leak comparable to the infamous Pentagon Papers that helped end the Vietnam War. The leak, also known as the “Afghan War Diaries”, gives a vivid picture of just how commonplace human rights violations have been for the past six years.
In one of the leaked documents, on Feb. 14, 2008, soldiers in the field reported sub-standard living conditions for Afghan civilians in the village of Kotgay. The report states that the village needed “electricity for 300+ homes, several more wells and a clinic.” The report also said that the village elders “seemed particularly concerned about the clinic – the main issue being pregnant women having to rear their children in less than ideal settings.” This is just one of many reports in which soldiers observe Afghan civilians barely surviving with what little aid the NATO military can provide for them.
Other documents show Afghan civilians being intimidated by enemy combatants. In one report a school was set on fire by 30 armed men. In another soldiers traveled to a village where they had previously been attacked. When they arrived they found a group of people standing over the decapitated body of Mohamad Zahir Khan. The victim’s uncle told the soldiers that “he was killed by the Taliban late at night on March 26, 2007. Two letters left with the victim said that the victim was killed due to his sympathetic views for coalition forces. The other letter said that if anyone moved the body they would meet the same fate. Despite the military’s efforts, the sheer amount of leaked documents documenting these instances shows how coalition forces have failed to put an emphasis on ensuring the security of Afghan people.
The most controversial factor in this story are the documents chronicling the civilian murders at the hands of military personal, and the subsequent cover-ups by their commanding officers. The Afghan government released a statement yesterday, in which they accuse coalition forces of killing 52 civilians when a rocket struck a village in southern Afghanistan. Although NATO officials deny this claim, many reports found in the War Diaries lend credibility to the Afghan government’s accusation. According to the founder of WikiLeaks, several incidents involving the coalition military forces could be investigated for war crimes. In many of the reports soldiers mistook civilians for enemy combatants and shot them. When this happens the military covers up the incident by calling the victims insurgents instead of civilians.
As a result of WikiLeaks posting the documents the American government has decided to launch an investigation into the site. Despite the criticism of the site’s actions, these reports only reinforce the fact that coalition forces must make a greater effort to protect the human rights of the Afghan people.