The new set of classified war logs released by Wikileaks confirm what was already known about the war in Iraq: massive civilian casualties, widespread use of torture, official denial and cover-up.

US Marine

What they add to the picture is a difference of degree: more killing, more torture, more lies. Horrific details sit within overall statistics showing at least 15,000 previously unrecorded civilian casualties.

The logs record how Iraqi prisoners were routinely shackled, blindfolded, whipped, punched, kicked and electro-shocked. We learn that the same helicopter team that gunned down a crowd of civilians in July 2008 had already shown a capacity for the sadistic application of massive firepower in another incident back in February 2007. Insurgents had been trying to surrender but a lawyer back at base told the pilots: “You cannot surrender to an aircraft.”

What is more disturbing: reading the individual reports, or looking at the map which plots them all together? Hundreds of thousands of little red dots, clumped around roads and cities, splitting and multiplying as you zoom in. One dot on every street corner, ten on every city block. Whole districts coloured red.

Iraq remains occupied and the horrors of the war are proving hard to escape (indeed they carry on). But with this new cache of leaks hitting the press, it’s worth considering that other war, currently far from the end/mid-game phase of permanent occupation: Afghanistan.

Right now there are nearly 10,000 British soldiers and almost 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The war is in a state of crisis. Its leadership is like a man on a cliff face: stuck on a ledge, unable to go back, unable to go forward, desperately clinging on by the fingernails.

This situation would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that the crisis is dragging down with it so many lives and the future of a country: the lives of thousands of soldiers sent to die in an un-winnable and unjust war, and the lives of millions of Afghans.

Every passing week seems to be ‘the bloodiest yet’. The deaths of British soldiers have become a name (or 2 or 3 or 4) scrolling along the bottom of a screen during sub-headline features of the evening news. On 10 July 8 soldiers were killed in the space of 24 hours.

Afghans are killed and counted in factors of ten and a hundred. 140 in the Kunduz airstrike, 140 in the Granai massacre. UNAMA, the UN mission in Afghanistan, puts the number of Afghan civilians dead in the first 6 months of this year at over 3000.

At a recent talk in London, Wikileaks director Julian Assange asked the audience to try and visualise this number: imagine this room of 300 people, stacked 10 bodies deep – that is the total death toll for half of 2010.

At the current rate they can call the whole thing off in 2015 and over 1000 British troops will have died. Cameron’s optimistic withdrawal date translates into about 15,000 Afghan civilians killed, on top of the countless tens of thousands already dead.

Afghanistan used to be billed as the good war. That description is fast entering the realm of the absurd. Under the strain of its own steady accumulation of misery the extraordinary normalisation of the war has finally broken.

The Wikileaks revelations over Afghanistan were the last straw. They took away the remaining semblances of normality and progress. Operation Enduring Freedom was shown decisively to be no better than its successor mission in Iraq.

Out of the 75,000 Afghanistan logs, one stands out for its exemplary quality. It details a mission by ‘373’, the ‘black operations’ unit given the task of ‘killing or capturing’ Taliban leaders (i.e. extra-judicial execution and detention without trial).

At the end of the document we read the BDA (Battle Damage Assessment): “12 US wounded in action, 3 local nationals wounded in action, 1 local national female child killed in action, 1 local national adult female killed in action, 4 local national adult males killed in action, 1 donkey killed, 1 dog killed, several chickens killed.”8

Enough is enough. What was draining and miserable has become intolerable. The internal turmoil has shattered its public facade. The normalisation has become sickening in its absurdity.

The anti-war movement has a very significant role to play. It’s the beginning of the end for the war. Withdrawal within five years has been openly contemplated by the British government (though as expected without any concrete commitment). But if the crisis is allowed to unfold according to its own macabre logic, not only is it likely that the 2015 date will become increasingly unlikely, then quietly dropped and forgotten, but this proposed conclusion will be five years of hell on earth and a legacy to match stretching much further into the future.

Afghanistan is on its way to becoming another Iraq. It’s up to all of us to force an end to this despicable war.

Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.

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