Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: more revelations to come

Whistleblowing site Wikileaks says it has a ‘backlog’ of further secret material after publication of Afghanistan war logsJulian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said he hoped for an ‘age of the whistleblower’. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

The Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, said today that the organisation is working through a "backlog" of further secret material and was expecting a "substantial increase in submissions" from whistleblowers after one of the biggest leaks in US military history.

Speaking in London after his website published more than 92,000 classified military logs relating to the war in Afghanistan, Assange said that he hoped for an "age of the whistleblower" in which more people would come forward with information they believed should be published.

Assange said that the site, which currently operates with a small dedicated team but has a network of about 800 volunteers, had a "backlog" of more material which only "just scratched the surface".

While he would not be drawn into commenting on the nature of the material, he said that the organisation held "several million files" that "concern every country in the world with a population over 1 million".

He said the site had undergone a "publishing haitus" since December during a period of re-engineering. Assange suggested a clear step-up of operations and said that there were difficulties in changing from a small to large organisation while ensuring it would still be able to work in a secure way.

"My greatest fear is that we will be too successful too fast and won’t be able to do justice to the material," he said.

He said that from past experience the organisation was expecting more material to add to the backlog. He said that after the site leaked details of one incident that killed 51 people in Afghanistan, "we received substantial increase in submissions".

"Courage is contagious," he added. "Sources are encouraged by the opportunities they see in front of them."

He said that a further 15,000 potentially sensitive reports had been excluded from today’s leak and were being were being reviewed further. He said some of this material would be released once it was deemed safe to do so. He added that the majority of this material was threat reports and that it included more than 50 embassy cables.

Assange’s plans will cause concern in government agencies, which argue that the site’s leaks are "irresponsible" and pose a threat to military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But Assange and said that the site applied "harm minimisation" procedures before publishing material.

"We don’t do things in an ad hoc way," he said. We’ve tried hard to make sure that it puts no innocents at harm. This material is over seven months old so it’s of no operational significance, although it’s significant for journalistic investigation."

Assange said that although the raw material was there, the real work would now begin to make sense of its scale. He said that a single report of an incident on 9 August 2006 – part of Operation Medusa – had a kill count of 181 but from reports of the official death count, the two figures didn’t tally. "We add up all these deaths and we get around 80. The other 101 are unexplained."

He added that there was no single issue brought to light by the material. "There is no single damning, single person, single mass killing. That’s not the real story. The real story is that it’s war. It’s the continuing small events, the continuing deaths of civilians, children and soldiers."

Assange said that although he did not believe that the material was a threat to the US military operation in Afghanistan it was clear that it "will shape a new understanding of the war" and made "less room to gloss over what has happened in the past".

He added that although seven months had passed since the last revealed file, he did not believe that changes in military strategy made by Barack Obama necessarily meant a change on the ground. Assange said that there was a problem with the way operations were reported from the ground.

"Military units when self-reporting speak in another language, redefining civil casualties as insurgent casualties … When US military report on other US military they tend to be more frank. When they report on ally military units, for the example the UK or the Polish, they’re even more likely to be frank. But when they report on the Taliban then all evil comes out. Internal reporting is not accurate. The cover-up starts at the ground. The whole task is to make the war more palatable."

He added: "What we see is the US army as a huge boat that’s hard to turn around. It’s hard to have a new policy and enact change. [Change] has to come from the bottom not the top."


Afghanistan war logs: White House attacks Pakistan over Taliban aid

More than 180 files detail accusations that the ISI spy agency has supplied, armed and trained insurgents since 2004
• Clandestine aid for Taliban bears Pakistan’s fingerprints

Taliban fighters in a Madrassa compound near the northern city of Kundoz in Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters in the a madrasa near the northern city of Kundoz, Afghanistan. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian

Allegations in the war logs that Pakistan‘s Inter-Services Intelligence has been covertly supporting the Taliban kicked off a political storm tonight as the White House said the situation was "unacceptable" and described militant safe havens in Pakistan as "intolerable".

More than 180 intelligence files in the war logs, most of which cannot be confirmed, detail accusations that Pakistan’s premier spy agency has been supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004.

The Obama administration, which gives $1bn a year in military aid to Pakistan, did not challenge the veracity of the files, but said that while Islamabad was making progress against extremism, "the status quo is not acceptable".

"The safe havens for violent extremist groups within Pakistan continue to pose an intolerable threat to the United States, to Afghanistan, and to the Pakistani people," a spokesman said in response to questions about the ISI files.

He urged Pakistan’s military and intelligence services to "continue their strategic shift against violent extremists groups within their borders, and stay on the offensive against them".

An ISI spokesman said the agency could not comment in detail until it had examined the files, but described the general allegations as "far-fetched and unsubstantiated".

The accusations against the ISI in the war logs range from spectacular to lurid. Reports describe covert ISI plots to train legions of suicide bombers, smuggle surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan, assassinate President Hamid Karzai and poison western beer supplies.

But despite the startling allegations the files yield little convincing evidence behind Afghan accusations that the ISI is the hidden hand behind the Taliban.

Much of the intelligence is unverifiable, inconsistent or obviously fabricated, and the most shocking allegations, such as the Karzai plot, are sourced to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s premier spy agency, which has a history of hostility towards the ISI.

"The vast majority of this is useless," a retired US officer with long experience in the region told the Guardian."There’s an Afghan prejudice that wants to see an ISI agent under every rock."

But he said the allegations chime with other US reporting, collected by other agencies and at a higher classification, that pointed to ISI complicity with the Taliban. "People wouldn’t be making up these stories if there wasn’t something to it. There’s always a nugget of truth to every conspiracy theory," he said.

The storm over the ISI files comes at a sensitive time. In recent months Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha, have drawn closer to Karzai, their former rival, with a view to negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban.

The ISI has rejected suggestions that it is playing a "double game", pointing to the arrest of the deputy Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Karachi last February as proof of its good intent. In issuing such a strongly worded statement with implicit criticism of the ISI, the White House may be trying to keep ahead of a tide of US opinion that is hostile towards Pakistan. But the Obama administration has little choice but to stick with its Pakistani allies, whose co-operation they need in hunting al-Qaida fugitives along the Afghan border. The ISI and the CIA are co-operating closely on drone strikes that have hit 47 targets and killed up to 440 people this year.

The war logs are likely to stoke passions in Pakistan where the rightwing press has long accused the US of seeking an excuse to invade and seize the country’s nuclear weapons.

A hint of this reaction came from the ISI official. "It’s very strange such a huge cache of information can be leaked to the media so conveniently," he said. "Is it something deliberate? What is its purpose? We’ll be looking into that."


Pakistan spy agency denies backing Afghan Taliban

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency is accused repeatedly in the leaked Afghan war logs of supporting the insurgency

taliban fighters

Taliban fighters pose with their weapons

Pakistan‘s spy agency today dismissed as "unsubstantiated raw intelligence" claims in the leaked war logs that it was supporting theTaliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is accused repeatedly in the logs by coalition commanders of directing insurgent attacks or planning operations, though there is little evidence to to substantiate many of the most sensational allegations.

An ISI official said: "In the intelligence world, preliminary and final reports are two different things. Only once something is collaborated from multiple sources does it become a credible piece of information.

"The majority of these [documents] are preliminary reports, and they are mostly from Afghan intelligence, so you can imagine their credibility."

Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief who is extensively cited in the documents as meeting and aiding the Taliban, reacted furiously, calling the material "a pack of lies, a fairly tale".

He denied having any contact with the Taliban, though he was happy to voice his moral support for them. "They are targeting Pakistan. I’m just the whipping boy," said Gul, who led the agency from 1987 to 1989.

"If a 74-year-old sitting in a small house in Rawalpindi is instrumental in defeating the world’s biggest power, I don’t mind if they say that. But it will put to shame American posterity."

Gul, who lives close to the military headquarters at Rawalpindi, offered to fly to the UK to answer the allegations, as long as it was done in public ("no Guantanamo"). But he added that he had been banned from the UK since November 2000. Though Gul retired from the military back in 1991, he is frequently accused of remaining active, along with other former intelligence officers, in a "shadow ISI".

"This is akin to Saddam Hussein having the bomb in the closet and Colin Powell telling the world about it," Gul added, referring to the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq put by the former US secretary of state.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry in Islamabad called the leaks "far-fetched and skewed". Spokesman Abdul Basitsaid: "Pakistan’s constructive and positive role in Afghanistan cannot be blighted by such self-serving and baseless reports."

The ISI, the Pakistani military’s principal spy agency, has been deeply involved in Afghan affairs since the beginning of the 1980s, when it worked with the CIA to back an Islamist mujahideen uprising against the Soviet invasion.

The allegations come at an awkward time for Islamabad and the west. Last week, the government reappointed the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, to lead the military for another three years. Kayani previously led the ISI. The US has also just announced $500m (£320m) of civilian aid projects for Pakistan.

"The documents circulated by Wikileaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities," Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani said. "The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic partners and are jointly endeavouring to defeat al-Qaida and its Taliban allies militarily and politically."

Kayani led the ISI from 2004 to 2007 before being appointed army chief, a period documented in many of the leaks as one of close collaboration between the insurgents and the ISI.

Respected as a soldier and a secular general, Kayani’s supporters say he is determined to fight Islamist extremism. But the extension of Kayani’s service exposed the weakness of the civilian government, which did not wish to grant him three more years. Analysts believe the government could not force Pakistan’s military, which has ruled the country for most of its existence, to change its policy towards Afghanistan or investigate Afghan actions.

"We have a political establishment that does not have the authority to engage the military," said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc. "We don’t have the mean to know how deeply the agency (ISI) was involved. All intelligence agencies have contacts.

"The leaks put pressure on Kayani, tell him what the Americans want him to do. But he also faces pressure from the rest of the [Pakistani] military high command. He is being embarrassed in front of his generals. He’s caught in the middle."

Pakistan’s critics have consistently questioned whether the country is ally or foe in the battle in Afghanistan. The truth appears, to many, that it has played both sides. Pakistan’s military nurtured the Taliban in the mid-90s as a force to bring stability to Afghanistan and keep out the influence of its arch-enemy, India.

With uncertainly about the strength of the West’s commitment to Afghanistan, the ISI has hedged its bets. "No amount of money, threats, incentives … nothing can make the Pakistan army do something it doesn’t see in its national interest," said Mosharraf Zaidi, a newspaper columnist based in Islamabad. "The Taliban are genetically an extension of the Pakistani security establishment. Those links have never been severed."

Afghanistan war logs reveal hand of Osama bin Laden

Many threat reports between 2004 and 2009 link elusive al-Qaida chief to full range of insurgent activitiesOsama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden in al-Jazeera footage. The al-Qaida chief remains ‘in very deep hiding’, the CIA says. Maher Attar/Corbis

The shadow of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, hangs heavily over the US-led coalition’s campaign in Afghanistan. Again and again, the secret watchers of American military intelligence, whose furtive and often confused attempts at information gathering are collated in the2004-2009 war logs, glimpse the hidden hand of the al-Qaida chief or catch a tantalising whiff of his whereabouts, only for the trail to turn cold and peter out.

Speaking last month, Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, said the last time US officials were in possession of precise information about Bin Laden’s location was in the "early 2000s". Since then, there had been no firm leads. "He is, as is obvious, in very deep hiding," Panetta said. "He’s in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan that is very difficult … All I can tell you is it’s in the tribal areas. We know that he’s located in that vicinity."

Yet despite the CIA’s self-confessed cluelessness, raw intelligence reports contained in the leaked war logs show that, every now and then, US forces believe they can see the mist surrounding Bin Laden briefly lift. One such moment came in August 2006, when a "threat report" generated by International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) regional command (north) zeroed in on suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida.

"Reportedly a high-level meeting was held in Quetta, Pakistan, where six suicide bombers were given orders for an operation in northern Afghanistan. Two persons have been given targets in Kunduz, two in Mazar-e-Sharif and the last two are said to come to Faryab," the report claimed.

It went on: "These meetings take place once every month, and there are usually about 20 people present. The place for the meeting alternates between Quetta and villages (NFDG) [no further details given] on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The top four people in these meetings are Mullah Omar [the Taliban leader], Osama bin Laden, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah [Baradar]. "The six foreigners who have been given the assignment have each been given $50,000 [£32,000] to conduct the attacks, and they have been promised that their families will be taken care of."

The report went on to detail the insurgents’ discussions about where and how the suicide attacks would be carried out, and whether vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) or suicide vests would be used.

Pakistan-based Ahmad Murghabi, described as a close associate of Baradar and a former provincial military commander in Ghor province, is alleged to be the lead instructor in a self-governing al-Qaida/Taliban academy for murder. "Murghabi is the one who is responsible for the teaching of suicide bombers and also IEDs and guerrilla warfare. He has 12 students now."

This intelligence report may have had significant practical impact down the line. Dadullah, a former mujahideen leader and close associate of Omar, was cornered and killed the following May in a raid by US and British special operations forces. Baradar was captured by Pakistani security forces in Karachi earlier this year.

The war logs make clear that suicide bombing, normally carried out by non-Afghan, foreign fighters, is a growth business in this period – and claim that they are being carefully nurtured by Bin Laden.

A threat report generated as early as September 2004 stated that "three well-trained terrorists (NFI) [no further information] have been assigned by Osama bin Laden to conduct a suicidal attack against [Hamid] Karzai[the pro-western Afghan president].

"According to the source [unidentified], the three terrorists will pass Afghanistan border in 10 days with counterfeit journalist passports obtained from an Arab country, potentially Pakistan [sic]. They are planning to conduct the attack during a press conference or a meeting held by Karzai."

Another report, in September 2008, speaks of highly co-ordinated, multinational al-Qaida attack planning: "Seven Arabs and four Iranians have been seen in Siahvashan village, Gozareh district, Herat province five days ago. They have joined Gholam Yahya Akbary (GYA) group. The seven Arabs are tied with [US-born Abu] Mansour, one of the Osama bin Laden deputies.

"The Arabs are only charge[d] to carry out suicide attacks against US and Italian troops or, secondarily, whatever foreigners personnel [sic]. The four Iranians belong to ‘intelligence’ unit of Sepah-e-Pasdaran [Iranian Revolutionary Guards] and they are supporting GYA in the anti-Isaf/Afghan government actions through intelligence and as well co-ordinating the GYA group activities."

More suicide bombings, if the intelligence set out in the logs is accurate, are planned with al-Qaida’s Afghan allies, such as the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) militia led by the notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Some raw intelligence pertaining to Bin Laden is downright sensational – and largely impossible to verify. In December 2005, under the banal title Threat to Aircraft in Helmand Province, Isaf headquarters in Kabul generated the following startling report based on information received from regional command (south):

"On 19 November 2005, Hezb-e-Islami party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Dr Amin (NLN) [no last name], Osama bin Laden’s financial adviser, both flew to North Korea, departing from an [sic] Iran. They returned to Helmand on approximately 3 December 2005. While in North Korea, the two confirmed a deal with the North Korean government for remote controlled rockets for use against American and coalition aircraft.

"The deal was closed for an undetermined amount of money. The shipment of said weapons is expected shortly after the new year. Upon return from North Korea, Dr Amin stayed in Helmand and Hekmatyar went to Konar, Nuristan province."

Direct co-operation including weapons sales between al-Qaida, North Korea’s regime, and the Afghan insurgents, apparently with a helping hand from Iran, could amount to Washington’s worst security nightmare. But whether it happened, or is still happening, is a matter of speculation. The report of the North Korea visit was not followed up, at least not at the war-logs level of military intelligence, and no further information was forthcoming.

But while Hekmatyar is still very much at large, "Dr Amin" – his full name is Amin al-Haq or ul-Haq – was reportedly picked up by Pakistani security forces in Lahore in 2008.

According to the Long War Journal, Amin has a long pedigree as a Taliban, al-Qaida and HIG operative. Most often described as the security co-ordinator of Bin Laden’s Black Guard (bodyguards), he was with the al-Qaida chief at the battle of Tora Bora in 2001. Said to be "under interrogation at an undisclosed location" after his arrest in January 2008, Amin has since disappeared from view.

Numerous threat reports link Bin Laden and al-Qaida to the full range of conventional insurgent activities, including rocket smuggling in Kandahar province. But in another, particularly alarming report, al-Qaida is also claimed to be mixed up in a plan to manufacture chemical weapons payloads for rocket-propelled grenades that are "intended to spread a poisonous gas on impact".

Dr Mohammad Hamzah Ahmadzai, identified in the logs as the scientist behind the plan, is said by the source to be interested in acquiring uranium for unspecified explosive purposes. Uranium was available from an unidentified factory in Lahore at a cost of approximately $538 for 10g, but Hamzah found the price too high, the source claimed. "Hamzah was thus seeking alternative means of creating a large explosion."

The overall impression gained from the war logs through 2009 is that Bin Laden’s influence is pervasive and possibly growing.

Intelligence circulated in May 2008, for example, claimed a plot was afoot to poison coalition forces. A Taliban commander called Nasim in Nuristan province had, it was alleged, developed a powder that was to be added to food and drink consumed by coalition soldiers as their patrols passed through villages. According to the source, "the poison is called Osama Kapa in honour of Osama".

And a report in July 2007 suggests Bin Laden is willing and able to exercise the patronage of a great chief. Thus, in Kunduz province, it is reported that an insurgent called Abdullah won distinction and favour for his skill in making remote-controlled IEDs. His reward: an Arab wife presented to him by Bin Laden.

Despite his invisibility, Osama’s message representing resistance, jihad and the inevitable triumph of the faithful seems ubiquitous. One intelligence report, filed in April 2004 and headlined Propaganda, describes how coalition forces found two lone white flags flying on a hillside along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"On the flags was written, ‘Long Live Taliban’ … ‘Long Live Omar’, and ‘Sheikh Osma’ [Osama]," it said. And under the flags were five handwritten letters. In a chilling promise that echoes hauntingly across Afghanistan six years later, the letters said: "We are looking for coalition forces. If God is willing, we will get rid of them … Kill them wherever you find them."

Afghanistan war logs: US covered up fatal Taliban missile strike on Chinook

Surface-to-air strike over Helmand shows Taliban had strong anti-aircraft capabilities earlier than previously thought

Shadow of a Chinook on Kajaki dam, Helmand, where Taliban shot down a Chinook, killing seven troops

The shadow of a Chinook is seen on Kajaki dam in Helmand, near where the Taliban shot down one of the helicopters with a surface-to-air missile, killing seven soldiers. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

The US military covered up a reported surface-to-air missile strike by theTaliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand in 2007 and killed seven soldiers, including a British military photographer, the war logs show.

The strike on the twin-rotor helicopter shows the Taliban enjoyed sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities earlier than previously thought, casting new light on the battle for the skies over Afghanistan.

Hundreds of files detail the efforts of insurgents, who have no aircraft, to shoot down western warplanes. The war logs detail at least 10 near-misses by missiles in four years against coalition aircraft, one while refuelling at 11,000ft and another involving a suspected Stinger missile of the kind supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

But if American and British commanders were worried about the missile threat, they downplayed it in public – to the extent of ignoring their own pilots’ testimony. The CH-47 Chinook was shot down on 30 May 2007 after dropping troops at the strategic Kajaki dam in Helmand where the British were leading an anti-Taliban drive. Witnesses reported that amissile struck the left rear engine of the aircraft, causing it to burst into flames and nosedive into the ground. All on board died, including 28-year-old Corporal Mike Gilyeat of the Royal Military Police.

Later that day Nato and US officials suggested the helicopter, codenamed Flipper, had been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade – effectively, a lucky hit. "It’s not impossible for small-arms fire to bring down a helicopter," Nato spokesman Major John Thomas told Reuters in Kabul. A US official said it had "probably been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade [RPG]".

But US pilot logs show they were certain the missile was not an RPG and was most likely a Manpad – the military term for a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. "Witness statements from Chalk 3 [another aircraft] suggest Flipper was struck by Manpad," it reads.

Those fears were confirmed by two Apache attack helicopters hovering over the crash site that came under fire from more missiles, twice in 30 minutes. Both missiles missed, and the pilots subsequently reported that they were "not an RPG" but a "probable first-generation MANPAD".

"Clearly the Taliban were attempting to down an Apache after downing the CH-47," it read.

The crash and its handling highlight steadily escalating US worries amid a stream of intelligence reports, also captured in the files, that suggest the Taliban were being supplied with missiles from Iran and Pakistan.

One internal report in September 2005 warned that Taliban commanders in Zabul and Kandahar provinces had acquired missiles they called "number two Stinger", for about $1,000 (£650) each. Nine months later came the first of at least 10 near-miss reports.

In June 2006 a Black Hawk medevac helicopter came under fire 25 miles from Kandahar. The missile changed course after the American crew launched six diversionary flares. "The crew chief saw only the smoke trail due to evasive maneuvering but determined that the missile was a type of MANPAD," the subsequent report read – the second Manpad attack that month.

In June 2007, shortly after the American Chinook was shot down in Kajaki, a British Chinook had a close shave when its missile warning system activated 6,000ft over Helmand. "The crew looked out their window and observed a projectile with a white-grey tight spiral smoke trail rising from their 7 o’clock, climbing through their level and exploding 2000ft 3000ft above and 0.5-1nm [nautical miles] ahead of the aircraft," it read.

"The airburst was described as a dark grey cloud. All crew members heard a loud bang and the projectile passed within 50ft of the aircraft."

A month later a C-130 aircraft was refueling 11,000ft over Nimroz province when a crew member spotted a "bright flash" followed by a second flash 2 nautical miles away. "A corkscrew smoke trale [sic] was observed and the aircraft dispensed flares" just before projectiles streaked past the plane, read the assessment.

The anti-aircraft missile threat has a strong historical resonance in Afghanistan. CIA-supplied Stingers punched dozens of Soviet Hind helicopters from the skies in the 1980s, and were considered to have played a key role in forcing the Soviets to abandon the country in 1989.

Western worries that the phenomenon could be repeated in this war have made surface-to-air missiles a favourite topic among intelligence informers, whose unconfirmed accounts of meddling foreign powers stuff the files.

As fighting intensified in April 2007 one unidentified source told an American officer that seven Manpads purchased by Iran from Algeria had been "clandestinely transported from Mashhad in Iran across the border into Afghanistan". Other reports, also unconfirmed, accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence of supplying weapons or missile-trainers to the Taliban.

More concretely, the files contain first-hand accounts of Afghan tribesmen slipping into US bases offering to sell their private stock of missiles. In one instance four elders from Balkh, near Mazar-i-Sharif, arrived with a clutch of blurry photographs of missiles. "Their motivation is monetary gain," the report notes.

The Americans were particularly interested in retrieving unused Stingers from the stockpile of up to 2,000 distributed in the 1980s. One report from Jowzjan in 2005 said an Afghan intelligence chief was authorised to pay $5,000 for older SA-7 missiles and $15,000 for a Stinger. "The NDS [National Directorate of Security] had been ordered to buy all they can acquire, to stop them falling into OMF [opposing military force] hands," it says.

Military experts say many Stingers may no longer be operational – due to drained batteries, for instance – but on at least one occasion US troops feared they were under fire from their own weapons. A Black Hawk helicopter leaving an airbase in Paktika province in July 2007 came under fire from two missiles that crew members believed were Stingers. It was a "probable Stinger due to flight characteristics, the smoke trail going straight up, then turn towards aircraft and lack of cork screws".

The assessment was provided by a crew member who said he had previously operated the Stinger system. It is not recorded whether his assessment was later confirmed.

Another eye-catching intelligence report from January 2009 says an Iranian agent, Hussein Razza, had arrived in Marjah in Helmand carrying four Stingers. There have been no reports since of aircraft being shot down in Marjah, where British and American troops launched a major offensive last February.

But for all the worries about Manpads and Stingers, the Taliban’s most potent weapon against US aircraft was a carefully aimed RPG. In June 2005 a Taliban rocket shot down a Chinook in Kunar, killing all 16 special forces troops on board. Another RPG strike in 2007 forced a Black Hawk in Wardak province to crash-land.

As fighting surged in the runup to the last election in August 2009, one report noted 32 RPG attacks against aircraft across Afghanistan in the previous month. "RPGs remain the most lethal weapon system used in theatre, accounting for the majority of A/C [aircraft] losses," it said.

But some missile attacks remained a mystery. In August 2007 two Harrier jets flying at 270mph were circling a target when "an unidentified rocket" passed between them, leaving a thick smoke trail that soared above 21,000ft and took three minutes to dissipate. Task Force Pegasus, the US army aviation command, was puzzled. "The signature reported by the crew does not match any known weapon in Afghanistan. Every MANPAD and known rockets burn out at half the height reported by the crew."