Amid the thousands of pages of classified US military documents released July 25 by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks are details of nearly 200 incidents that involve Task Force 373, an elite Special Forces unit tasked with hunting down and killing enemy combatants in Afghanistan. Documents indicate the unit has also been responsible for the deaths of numerous civilians, Afghan police officers, and, in one particularly bloody raid, seven children.
The documents indicate that in June 2007, Task Force 373 in search of Taliban commander Qari Ur-Rahman, engaged in a night firefight with suspected insurgents, and called in a helicopter gunship to take out the enemy. Only later did they realize that seven of those killed and four of the wounded were Afghan National Police. The incident was labeled a misunderstanding.
In another mission, members of Task Force 373 conducted a secret raid, hoping to capture al-Qaida commander Abu Laith al-Libi. Five rockets were launched into a group of buildings, but when forces moved into the destroyed area they found six dead insurgents—and seven dead children. Al-Libi was not among the dead.
The summary of the incident says initial checks showed no indications that children would be there. And it quotes an Afghan governor later saying that while the residents there were in shock, they “understand it was caused ultimately by the presence of hoodlums—the people think it is good that bad men were killed.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who organized the release of the documents, said he believes these are among “thousands” of US attacks in Afghanistan that could be investigated for evidence of war crimes.
US Special Operations missions in Afghanistan have been criticized by human rights groups. “You have people going in with a kill list and the public accountability simply doesn’t exist,” said Sarah Knuckey, director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law. She went to Afghanistan in 2008 to interview dozens of civilians who had complained of indiscriminate military attacks.
“We didn’t hear specifically the name 373, but it’s clear, judging by what’s been on WikiLeaks—if [WikiLeaks’] information is correct—that what civilians told us is true,” she told CNN (Raw Story, July 27; CNN, July 26)