Glimpses of Bin Laden: Now WikiLeaks reveals Al Qaeda boss was seen at village meetings – despite CIA claims that they were clueless
By MAIL FOREIGN SERVICE
Last updated at 10:16 AM on 27th July 2010
- Bin Laden spotted in meeting with Taliban chief in 2006
- Al Qaeda boss ‘had hand’ in plot to poison UK troops
- Secret files claim British soldiers shot 16 children
- Military experts: leaks could put our troops in peril
- Taliban missile brought down Chinook helicopter
‘Spotted’: Among 91,000 leaked U.S. documents are claims that Osama Bin Laden was last seen in 2006
Secret files leaked about the war in Afghanistan have revealed tantalising glimpses of Osama Bin Laden despite public CIA claims that they are clueless as to the whereabouts of the Al Qaeda boss.
The claims are among 91,000 U.S. military records obtained by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, said last month that there have been no firm leads on Bin Laden’s whereabouts since the ‘early 2000s’.
But a ‘threat report’ from the International Security Assistance Force regional command (north) on suicide bombers in August 2006 suggested Bin Laden had been attending regular meetings in villages on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It said: ‘Reportedly a high-level meeting was held where six suicide bombers were given orders for an operation in northern Afghanistan. These meetings take place once every month.’
According to the Guardian, which has received the documents, the report went on: ‘The top four people in these meetings are Mullah Omar [the Taliban leader], Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah [Baradar].’
If true, it could mean forces came close to having the opportunity to wipe out the senior leadership of the Afghan insurgency that has so far claimed the lives of 320 British soldiers.
The war logs also show that Bin Laden had a hand in a plot to poison coalition forces by adding a powder to food and drink consumed by troops as they passed through villages.
Toll: An Afghan girl in hospital in Helmand after being injured by coalition forces in an air strike in 2007
These documents also suggest coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in so-called ‘blue on white’ incidents which were never reported.
IS THIS SOLDIER BEHIND LEAKS?
This fresh-faced soldier could be responsible for leaking a massive file of secret military documents revealing chilling details of the Afghanistan war and civilian deaths.
The leak is said to be U.S. Army intelligence expert Bradley Manning, 22, who boasted he had downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents, according to computer hacker Adrian Lamo.
The 22-year-old, pictured above, is said to have contacted Lamo out of the blue and then claimed he had saved high-security files onto CDs, ready to hand to Wikileaks, while pretending to listen to Lady Gaga.
‘Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,’ he apparently told Mr Lamo.
The hacker got in touch with the U.S. military and later met with them in Starbucks to hand over a printout of his conversations with Manning.
Manning has already been charged over a separate leak of a classified helicopter cockpit video earlier this month.
It showed U.S. soldiers laughing as they gunned down Afghan civilians and two journalists in a firefight in Baghdad in 2007.
He was picked up in Iraq, where he was working.
Manning is said to be locked up in a military prison after being shipped across the border to Kuwait.
He faces trial by court martial and, if found guilty, a heavy jail sentence.
Mr Lamo believes Manning did not work alone, saying he did not have ‘the technological expertise’ to carry out the gathering and leaking of the documents.
‘I believe somebody would have had to have been of assistance to him,’ he said.
They include claims that 16 children were among those shot or bombed in error by British troops.
The leaked military logs also reveal how a secret ‘black’ unit of crack special forces hunt down Taliban leaders for ‘kill or capture’ without trial - and voice concerns that Pakistani intelligence and Iran are supporting the insurgents.
Downing Street said it ‘would lament all unauthorised releases of classified material’ and the White House condemned the ‘ irresponsible’ leak of the files.
And military and intelligence experts warned yesterday that the leaks could imperil the lives of British forces in Afghanistan.
Colonel Stuart Tootal, who in 2006 commanded 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment in Helmand Province - where more than 320 UK soldiers have been killed - said the information ‘could impact on the security of our soldiers’.
He insisted Nato forces now put a ‘huge emphasis’ on avoiding civilian casualties.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army captain, said: ‘Although much of this information is in the public domain, the details are particularly damaging to the credibility of the coalition.
‘Our enemies will be quick to exploit the propaganda element of it.
‘If there are details of operational matters - locations, equipment, troops movements, resources - then soldiers’ lives could be placed at risk.’
Details of the secret files, detailing military operations between 2004 and 2009, were published yesterday by the Guardian, New York times and Germany’s Der Spiegel while more than 75,000 records were made available on the WikiLeaks website.
The files list 144 incidents involving Afghan civilian casualties, in which 195 died and 174 were injured.
They detail coalition forces - fearful of suicide bombers - shooting unarmed drivers and civilian motorcyclists, and record an incident when French troops opened fire at a bus full of children because it came too close to a military convoy.
Other leaked documents record a U.S. patrol machine-gunning a bus, killing or wounding 15 passengers, and Polish troops mortaring a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman.
They reveal details of undercover operations by a U.S. special forces unit named task Force 373, formed to hunt down and kill or capture taliban and Al Qaeda commanders.
According to Julian Assange, the founder of the website, the files contain details of ‘thousands’ of potential war crimes.
At a press conference in London, he defended his decision to publish the files and claimed the high level of civilian casualties reported was in fact lower than the true figure because military personnel ‘downplayed’ the number or reported them as insurgent deaths.
Mr Assange said: ‘We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not put innocents at harm.
‘All the material is over seven months old so it is of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence.
‘The revelation of abuse by the U.S. and coalition forces may cause Afghans to be upset, and rightly so.
‘If governments don’t like populations being upset, they should treat them better, not conceal abuses.’
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a defence expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said that the leaks could undermine already faltering public support for the war.
‘This will reinforce the perception that things are very complicated and that it is a difficult war to get through and that perhaps it is best to bring our troops home.’
Taliban missile brought down an allied Chinook
The Taliban has acquired surface-to-air missiles and used them to shoot down a coalition helicopter, the logs reveal.
A British Army photographer, Corporal Mike Gilyeat, 28, was among seven soldiers killed when a Chinook was blasted out of the skies over Helmand in May 2007.
At risk: A Chinook helicopter, like those above, was brought down by a missile in May 2007
The leaked documents also report coalition aircraft coming under fire from Stinger missiles - supplied to Afghan rebels by the CIA to help them fight the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.
Several Soviet Hind helicopters were brought down - one of the reasons the Kremlin decided to withdraw troops and abandon the country in 1989.
WHAT IS WIKILEAKS?
WikiLeaks was set up in 2007 by journalist and computer programmer Julian Assange (pictured). Mr Assange said he wanted to allow whistleblowers, journalists and activists to publish sensitive materials without fear of being idetified. His parents met at a demonstration against the Vietnam war. As a teenager, his mother rode into city hall on a horse to protest against the closing of pony trails. Mr Assange has refused repeated requests by the U.S. intelligence agencies to meet them on ‘neutral territory’ to discuss his sources. His website’s complex setup is designed to ensure that information sent to it is anonymised before it is passed to the web servers. Its servers are spread all over the world and do not keep logs, so governments and other organisations cannot trace where the information is being sent and received from. Even so, WikiLeaks encourages donors of sensitive material to post the material to them on CDs, over encyrypted internet connections or from netcafes. They say this is so that even if WikiLeaks were infiltrated by a government intelligence agency, submitters could not be traced. WikiLeaks claims that so far none of the thousands of its sources have been exposed, via WikiLeaks or any other method. It also runs a network of lawyers and others to defend its publications and their sources.
U.S. and British commanders have been accused of covering up the fact that the deadly missiles had fallen into the hands of insurgents.
The leaked documents record at least ten near-misses by surface-to-air weapons fired at coalition aircraft in the last four years. However, top brass have insisted that missiles passing within yards of allied helicopters were actually rocket-propelled grenades.
Insurgent leaders, who have no aircraft, are known to prize the downing of allied planes as part of their propaganda war. Colonel Stuart Tootal, who commanded the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment in Helmand Province in 2006, has warned it is a case of ‘when, not if’ a UK helicopter packed with troops is shot down by insurgents.
Helicopter pilots who saw the CH-47 Chinook carrying Cpl Gilyeat, of the Royal Military Police, five U.S. crew and a Canadian soldier nosedive to the ground reported that it had been hit by a ‘Manpad’ - a military term for a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile.
The fears were apparently confirmed by two Apache attack helicopters hovering over the crash site which also came under fire from missiles 30 minutes later.
While both devices missed, the pilots reported that they were ‘not an RPG’ but a ‘probable first-generation Manpad’.
The entry added: ‘Clearly the Taliban were trying to down an Apache after downing the CH-47.’
In June 2006, a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter evacuating casualties came under fire 25 miles from Kandahar but evaded the missile.
The log report read: ‘The crew chief saw only the smoke trail due to evasive manoeuvring but determined that the missile was a type of Manpad.’
North Korean link to Al Qaeda
North Korea took part in an arms deal with Al Qaeda chiefs, it was sensationally claimed in the documents.
They state that in 2005 a senior militant and Osama bin Laden’s financial adviser flew to North Korea from Iran to buy remote-controlled rockets to use against U.S. and coalition aircraft.
And both Pakistan and Iran are accused of arming, training and financing the bloody Taliban insurgency against coalition forces. More than 180 intelligence files detail allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency has been aiding the insurgents since at least
The accusations include plots to train legions of suicide bombers, smuggle surface-toair missiles into Afghanistan and assassinate President Hamid Karzai.
Iran provides arms, money and medical care for injured Taliban fighters, according to intelligence.
British troops ‘killed Afghan children’
Sixteen children were among the civilians shot or bombed in error by British troops, according to claims in the leaked military logs.
The secret documents suggest Coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in incidents that have never been reported.
The logs detail the toll on civilians - ‘ blue on white’ in military jargon – and reveals 144 incidents.
Some casualties come from air strikes but a large number of previously unknown incidents appears to be the result of troops - determined to protect themselves – shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists.
The bloody errors include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol machine-gunned another bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers.
Pride: The Prince of Wale talks to a soldier while presenting medals to British servicemen in Guetersloh, western Germany
In 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing six from a wedding party which included a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
The bulk of the ‘blue on white’ file consists of civilian shootings by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys.
The logs contain descriptions of 21 separate occasions in which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians – identifying at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result.
The number of dead or wounded allegedly caused by the British include 16 children, at least three woman and a mentally ill man.
Served with honour: Prince Charles chatted to the families as he honoured solidiers who had recently served in Afghanistan
It is a small fraction of the 369 civilian casualities listed in the log as due to coalition - mostly US – action in total.
More than 320 UK soldiers have been killed since British troops were deployed to Helmand but the war logs describe two clusters of British shootings that do not appear to have been properly investigated.
There is a group of four shootings in Kabul in little more than a month in 2007 when civilians are wounded and a US report that after ‘UK Coy reported force escalation’ the son of an Afghan general died of subsequent gunshot wounds.
Documents also report a cluster of eight shootings involving Royal Marine commandos in Helmand in the six months from October 2008.
Four recorded instances of air strikes being called in by the UK also resulted in civilian casualites.
American death squads
A ‘black’ special forces squad led by the U.S. targets Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures in Afghanistan.
The team, Task Force 373, hunts for suspects on a 2,000 strong list to kill or capture, known as Jpel.
The log allegedly reveals the unit has killed innocent men, women and children and Afghan police officers who got in their way.
An entry on June 11 2007 told how a taskforce set out with Afghan special forces to capture or kill Taliban commander Qarl Ur-Rahman.
In April, Wikileaks published extracts from this 2007 video showing U.S. soldiers shooting civilians in Baghdad. U.S. intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is now being held for allegedly mishandling and leaking the data
Another still from the video shows Afghans falling as U.S. soldiers encourage each other to keep shooting
They crept up in the dark but opened fire when a torch was shone on them. A AC-130 gunship was called in for back up and started shooting.
The report said: 7x ANP KIA, 4x WIA – meaning seven Afghan police officers were dead and four wounded. The involvement of TF-373 was never mentioned.
Six days later, another taskforce armed with a HIMAR – a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – was sent out to find Libyan fighter Abu Laith al-Libi.
They aimed to fire rockets at a village where they thought he was hiding and then send in ground troops.
But they failed to find Libi and killed six Taliban fighters. Searcing a madrassa after the attack, they found seven Taliban children dead or dying in the rubble.
The coalition admitted the deaths but blamed the attack on ‘nefarious activity’ when it was actually to find al-Libi. It also did not mention Nato forces had fired first, rather than in retaliation.
The internal report into the incident was marked ‘secret’ but also ‘Noforn’ – meaning it should not be shared with the foreign members of the coalition.
‘The knowledge that TF-373 conducted a HIMARS strike must be protected,’ it said.
Months later, in October 2007, a team confronted the Taliban in a village in Laswanday. They called in air support and 500lb bombs were dropped on a house from where they had been firing.
The incident left 12 U.S. wounded and one girl, a woman and four men dead. No Taliban fighters were wounded or killed.
A statement claimed several insurgents had died and did not mention any civilians. Later it was admitted ‘several non-combatants were found dead and others wounded’ but there were no specifics.