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


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:

Col Shamsul [reports] from Barge Matal, that LN children picked up a UXO and were carrying it through town. It detonated and killed 4 and wounded 3. The WIA injuries are burn and schrapnel wounds to the upper body and arms. Col Shamsul requests MEDEVAC of children to CF hospital to receive treatment. 1302z JCC rpts update for incident in Barge Matal. Of the four KIA rpted 2 were women and 2 were children, and one of the WIA has died of wounds. SUM 2xKIA (Women) 3xKIA (Children) 2xWIA (Children)

"Green on Green"

Dozens of documents report violence between factions within the Afghan national forces. These are listed under "Friendly Fire" in a subsection called "Green-Green" conflict. Usually these reports involve firefights between the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the ANP (Afghan National Police). Others describe explosive scuffles and drawn-out battles between tribal militias, who are often allied with ANA or ANP units. In this case , the green on green "Event" involved a rooftop firefight that cut across a moonlit opium haze:

B Coy 1 RIFLES reported that some ABP (Afghan Border Police) high on drugs were arguing and woke up the TERPS (Interpreters). The ABP were later on the roof talking when 3 x shots were fired in the direction of the terps. 1 x ABP fell from the roof apparently from a GSW (Gunshot Wound). QRF (B Coy 1 RIFLES) was alerted and arrived on the scene to deal with the incident and treat the casualty. The casualty later died from his GSW. OCCD (Operational Command Center - District) will investigate at first light A significant proportion of the ABP in PB (Patrol Base) JUGROOM were high on opium and having a party. An argument between an interpreter and a number of policemen ensued; this developed into a fight between the interpreter and the ABP. The Guard Commander was called, and the PB Commander and Plt Sjt attempted to negotiate with the ABP Commander. The majority of the ABP were on the roof of the interpreters accommodation, and a number of shots were fired. The sentry in Sanger 2 fired one shot in response believing the lives of his PB Commander and Platoon Sjt were in danger. One ABP was wounded with a single GSW to his abdomen. It is not known whether the round lead to the ABP casualty was fired by the UK sentry or was fired from another weapon. After the medical attention the GSW proved fatal and the MIRT was stood down.

The Cave

There aren't many documents dealing with the Coalition's war on drugs. Most that do are organized on a WikiLeaks page titled " Smuggling ." Here are found interdiction reports of everything from massive hashish screens to garbage bags of softball-sized orbs of wet opium. Then there is this evocative memo , describing the Afghanistan equivalent of a dime-bag bust:

ANA (Afghan National Army) were conducting a joint patrol vic WB 546 800. CCA (Carrier Controlled Approach) had seen personnel down loading jingle trucks in caves vic that grid. We set up an RP approximately 300 meters from the suspected jingle truck sight and put a dismounted patrol along the road. We established overwatch over the wadi surrounding the area. While attempting to find another cave to the west, we saw a cave to our south with personnel in it. After coming up short looking for jingle trucks, we decided to look into the cave to the South. A man approached us from the cave and began telling a story about his truck breaking down. ANA and CF (Coalition Forces) were searching the area around the man while we were questioning him. They found an AK-47, two pistols, marijuana, several sticks of explosives, det cord, a large number of D cell batteries, blasting caps, a notebook, a book of pictures and other personal items. I then had the ANA place the men in flex cuffs and sit them down. We brought them to Salerno. Of the four men, one is young, and one is older. The fat man with the lazy eye was very quiet the whole time.

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