WikiLeaks papers reveal Pentagon kill squad in Afghanistan

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)

See our last posts on Afghanistan, US civilian casualties and atrocities, and the WikiLeaks controversy.

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  1. “Kill team” faces charges for Afghan atrocities
    Were these guys just going unilateral, as the text implies, or were they linked to “Task Force 373”?
    From The Guardian, Sept. 9:

    US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’
    Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

    Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

    In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

    According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army’s criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to “toss a grenade at someone and kill them”.

    One soldier said he believed Gibbs was “feeling out the platoon”.

    Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a “kill team”. While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. According to the charge sheet, the first target was Gul Mudin, who was killed “by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle”, when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January.