The U.S. government needs to brace itself for an outcry in Afghanistan and around the world. WikiLeaks, a website founded by an Australian ex-hacker named Julian Assange and devoted to releasing secret information regardless of consequence, is expected to release videotape of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last year that will be framed as a deliberate or reckless massacre of civilians. Expect protests, condemnations, and outrage — expressions of anti-Americanism that Assange and his cohorts are trying to provoke.
WikiLeaks claims it is receiving 10,000 documents from its sources each day. Notably, the biggest leaks paint the U.S. as an imperialist war-monger without regard for civilian casualties. Assange does this in the name of “radical democracy” where the free flow of information, even of a sensitive nature, educates the public. He has spoken at an anti-capitalist event called the World Social Forum in Kenya and he lives a life of secrecy, hopping from location to location, assisted by Iceland’s decision to become a safe haven for sources for leaks, passing legislation partially drafted by Assange.
Assange is expecting to soon release video of what he calls “the Garani massacre,” a U.S. aistrike in Garani, Afghanistan, which he claims “killed over 100 people, mostly children.” The airstrike caused uproar and undermined support for the U.S. and the government. Before the video is released, edited and with commentary meant to paint the U.S. in the worst possible light, the media need to revisit the facts surrounding the incident.
The battle began when the Taliban attacked Afghan law enforcement. One police officer was captured, a cop car was set ablaze, and the police found themselves overwhelmed. The Taliban hid in fields for cover, knowing full well that civilians were now placed in a combat zone. The Afghan army intervened, only to find themselves also in need of assistance. The U.S. was called in, and the military dispatched a B-1 bomber and two F-18 jets to strike three targets from which the Taliban was firing.
Afghan officials estimated that the bombings killed 140 civilians while the country’s top human rights group said the number was 97. Another Afghan study put the number at 86. The U.S. military says that 20 to 30 civilians and 60 to 65 militants were killed. The number of civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military is often exaggerated in war zones. In Pakistan, for example, a U.S. review found that fewer than 30 civilians have been killed in the CIA’s drone strikes, a sharp difference from the Pakistani media reports of over 600.
Regardless of the discrepancy in numbers, civilian deaths are always a tragedy. The U.S. military investigated the incident and did find that mistakes were made in carrying out the attacks. Mainly, the B-1 bomber lost positive identification of its target for a time because of the route it had to take. However, the military did not conclude that these errors were the cause of the civilian casualties. “[T]he guys on the ground who are involved in this incident took great pains to limit civilian casualties, to target those who had attacked them,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said.