Afghanistan war logs confirm existence of Task Force 373, special forces hunting top Taliban

The Nato coalition in Afghanistan  has been using an undisclosed “black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial, The Guardian reports. The unit of elite soldiers, which includes members of the Navy Seals and the Delta Force, get their orders directly from the Pentagon in Washington and operate outside of the chain of command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), according to Der Spiegel. Details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a “kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2,058.

In many cases, the unit has set out to seize a target for internment, but in others it has simply killed them without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.;In the close to 92,000 logs leaked, 84 pertain to JPEL-related actions.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The logs detail the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed “blue on white” in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents. At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total.

Philip Sands:

We now have extensive international rules on the conduct of armed conflict, incorporated into the Security Council resolutions that govern the operations of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, as it is formally known. The latest of these – resolution 917 adopted in March 2010 – calls for “full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and international humanitarian law throughout Afghanistan”. The logs indicate that these rules do not seem to have brought much by way of added protection to the local population.

Under these international rules, targeted killings may be permitted in the armed conflict in Afghanistan, provided they are used against individuals who are directly involved in combat. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Professor Philip Alston, has raised concerns that targeted killings “are increasingly being used far from any battle zone”. These newly available logs underscore this expression of concern, not least since they refer to the use of unmanned drones, including Predators, on a significant scale, and the deaths of a great number of civilians. Alston has alerted us to the use of targeted killings “in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law”.

That seems like understatement.

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