Belfast Telegraph

Leaks won’t help Taliban. They knew the truth already

By Mark Steel

Why are the British and US governments saying that the leak of military files about Afghanistan by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks site has “put our soldiers at risk?” It's us who's been kept hidden from this information — not the Taliban.

For example, many of the revelations are previously hidden details of civilian casualties, but Afghans in those areas probably already knew about those deaths.

I don't suppose local insurgents have said: “Well, well. I've read the leaked documents. And you know that family whose house was bombed to rubble by an American plane and the rest of the village arrived and wailed for three days and swore revenge and then there was a funeral that we all went to. Well, it turns out they're dead.”

One typical story in the documents tells how, in March 2007, following an explosion, marines opened fire with automatic weapons as they drove down a six-mile stretch of road, killing 19 civilians including teenage girls in fields, motorists and an old man.

But when they made a military report on the episode, they wrote that after the explosion the “patrol returned to base”. This was accurate, as far as it went. It just missed out the details in between.

But, I suppose, with all the excitement of returning to base, you can easily forget the other bit of the afternoon, where you shot up half the neighbourhood.

In any case, those forms are so complicated, who wouldn't miss out on all that box-ticking after a tiring day.

Another objection to the leaks is even more unlikely: that the information is irrelevant because it concerns events of a few years ago, before these problems were sorted out.

Indeed, some of these accounts of civilian casualties took place way back in the olden days of 2008, when the war was in its infancy, barely seven years old.

And as any military expert knows, there are always teething troubles in any war for the first seven years, until year eight when matters suddenly sort themselves out and get settled.

Secrets are essential not because of the danger when information gets to insurgents, but because of the danger when information gets to us.

For we might conclude that having an army in Afghanistan for no coherent reason appears to put them — and the Afghans — at a certain amount of risk.

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