AUSTRALIAN police in Afghanistan have helped compile secret intelligence files on insurgent leaders later targeted in capture-or-kill missions by special forces soldiers.
The Pentagon has confirmed that Australian Federal Police officers are ”assigned to work with” a joint police task force in Kabul that produces files used by military commanders to “shape the battlefield” – a term often used to describe the capture-or-kill raids mounted by elite troops in Afghanistan.
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While Australian police are officially not allowed to contribute intelligence for military purposes, in reality they have little control over who uses the information they help compile.
Cables obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to the Herald show how the joint police effort in Kabul has been hampered by a lack of staff. A request from the US embassy in October last year said more officers were needed to help others working under the joint command of the Afghan government and NATO.
There has been a rise in capture-or-kill missions aimed at insurgents, with as many as 17 raids a night in Afghanistan by special forces teams from Australia, the US, Britain and other countries. The soldiers work off a secret hit list, a centralised military database that includes information from police intelligence.
US military officers have previously confirmed that some of those targeted include Afghans involved in narcotics with strong links to the insurgency. One general told a US Senate committee the aim is to ”persuade them to choose legitimacy or [we] remove them from the battlefield”.
In response to questions from the Herald, the AFP said its officers were assisting the Afghan police in identifying drug traffickers and encouraging their prosecution through the local justice system. But the Afghan justice system is racked by corruption and crippled by a lack of resources. Australian officials have told the Herald the international effort is increasingly relying on the military’s capture-or-kill missions.
An AFP statement concedes that the Afghan suspects it helps to identify “may coincidentally include Taliban leaders”. The statement also says the AFP cannot comment on ”the dissemination … and the processing of military data [or] the activities of other agencies”.
The US Senate’s foreign relations committee was told the military and police are seizing information to ”develop an intelligence profile of the networks and the drug kingpins”.
However, the targeting of insurgent leaders is weakened by the Afghan government’s willingness to release those captured by the international military. Since July this year the Afghan government has sought the release of a record number of inmates before they are put on trial – as many as 700 suspected Taliban fighters and mid-level leaders – and at least 500 have been released.
Another 2009 US State Department cable, obtained by WikiLeaks, says the US pressed the Afghan government to stop releasing drug suspects from custody.
The Herald understands the target list includes more than 60 major traffickers who contribute funds to the insurgency.