comments_image Comments

5 Passages from the WikiLeaks "Afghan Diary" That Bring the Bizarre, Tragic Reality of War to Life

From accounts of prison life to tales of drug smuggling, the Wikileaks memos bring the Afghan war home.

Much has been made of the unfolding scandal surrounding the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war cache. Surprisingly less attention has been paid to the vast amount of material itself -- beyond, that is, what the New York Times and Guardian have deemed important enough to publish. Much of the public, including many people who consider themselves engaged in the war debate, seems (understandably) intimidated by the size of the mega-dump and content to let others explain its significance. This is strange, given that perhaps the loudest message of the leakers is that we should never rely only on officials, embeds, and editors.

Putting to the side the political debates swirling around the leak, the material is rich on its own terms, rich in a way that second-hand round-ups and editorializing syntheses simply cannot capture. The mass of 91,000 raw files is perhaps best read (or heavily skimmed) as a very long work of experimental combat non-fiction, with each chapter a narrative bark of unedited, acronym-packed military speak. Over the course of hours, the sheer redundancy of the material -- a drumbeat of tribal skirmishes, dead civilians, and firefights among Afghan cops, soldiers, and militias -- powerfully conveys with incredible compression the daily grind of chaos and violence that is Afghanistan. The WikiLeaks memos make even the shortest wire dispatch read like an Op-Ed. They are bullets by bullet-point.

Below are five memos that gave this reader pause, each for different reasons. They don't represent the most shocking or important details buried in the cache, but are representative of the tiny rough gems you might find perusing the leaks. They are highly compressed true war stories that will lead different people to different conclusions, including none at all.

#1. The Great Escape

Prisons and prisoners are running motifs in the memos. They are full of reports of AAF's (Anti-Afghan Forces) and ACM's (Anti-Coalition Militias) being overcome, disarmed, flex-cuffed and sent off to the nearest base or holding facility. Some describe interrogations, releases and the occasional jailbreak. This entry relays one such escape with a touch of the cinematic despite itself:

On the night of 28 May between 1500Z and 2400Z Mohammed Wali Jan, a detained suspected ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia) was able to use his blanket as a tool and pull in the roof of his cell. From there he climbed the detention facility wall and escaped. The front gate to the PUC (Prison Under Control) facility was secure and we have been able to retrace his movement over the wall and concertina wire and have identified a recent blood trail heading east. Due to this probable escape route we do not at this time suspect any collaboration from HN (Host Nation) workers or terps (interpreters). Searches are being conducted in the local area.

Zawahiri's Gift of Grammar

There are not many Al Qaeda cameos in the WikiLeaks cache, but among them include this arrest made in January of 2004:

Afghan male found drawing map of kabul military training center (kmtc): an afghan male, jaweed ali, was seen drawing a map of kmtc. Jaweed was apprehended at 1000hrs on 12 jan 04 and taken before the 15th kandak commander who asked that the incident be investigated. A search of jaweeds personal effects resulted in the discovery of an english grammar book dedicated to jaweed by zawahiri in arabic. As the name ubl was also found in the same dedication, it was assumed that the zawahiri was the same one known to be an aq member.

The Curse of UX

Numerous documents detail the deaths of young LN's (Local Nationals). There are reports of kids running into streets and being grinded to death by coalition convoys; of young Afghans getting caught in crossfire; and of children being used as mules and spies. Then there are those who make the mistake of playing with UX (Unexploded Ordinance), scattered throughout the country by all sides. This happened in November of 2009:

See more stories tagged with: