WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Diary Sheds Light on the Service of Local Soldiers

Jeremiah Knupp -- August 11th, 2010

On July 25, WikiLeaks, a Web site that publishes “leaked” classified and sensitive documents, posted online over 75,000 documents from U.S. military and civilian sources in Afghanistan. Entitled the “Afghan War Diary” the documents detail activities in Afghanistan from 2004 through January 2010. The posting of the documents, which has been compared to the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, includes reports about National Guard units and soldiers from the Valley. 

A memorial at the Winchester National Guard Armory for the unit's soldiers lost in Afghanistan.

Among the documents with local connections is an August 7, 2004  incident report of an IED ambush. The attack killed two National Guard soldiers from the Winchester-based HHQ Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, Staff Sgt. Craig Cherry, 39, of Winchester and of Sgt. Bobby Beasley, 36, of Inwood, WV, along with their civilian Afghan interpreter Ajmal Behrouz. Also in the vehicle and wounded was 1st Lt. Heath Phillips, an Elkton resident and former teacher in the Rockingham County School system. Phillips was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries and continued to serve with his unit in Afghanistan, which suffered a second IED attack that did not result in casualties (the report of the second IED attack could not be positively identified from the WikiLeaks files).

The report details how the improvised explosive device consisted of several anti-tank mines “daisy chained” together and remotely detonated by a “spider device” (an improvised trigger set off by a cell phone text message). Only one of the mines detonated but it was enough to destroy the M1114 (a version of the military “Hummer” in an “Up-Armored Armament Carrier” configuration) and kill three of its occupants. 

Although local media provided scant coverage of the National Guard’s soldier’s deployment (with the exception of a two month embed by two staff members of The Roanoke Times) the WikiLeaks reports show an active force that was constantly patrolling, finding and destroying IEDs and weapons caches and arranging medical care and transport for wounded Afghan nationals. One report of a weapons cache captured during a planned operation  is described in detail in an article (“3-116th Inf uncovers weapons in Qarabaugh”) in the March 18, 2005 edition of The Sentinel,  an Army newsletter published in Afghanistan.   

Local Guard soldiers were also some of the first responders to an April 6, 2005 crash of a CH-47D helicopter that killed all 15 soldiers and three civilians aboard, one of the single deadliest incidents of the war. A report about the crash has not been posted on the WikiLeaks site, possibly due to the classified nature of the accident. 

In total there are approximately 90 reports in the WikiLeaks files that specifically mention the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, which includes National Guard units based from Roanoke to Winchester, who spent a year in Afghanistan stationed at Forward Operating Base Ghazni in the Ghazni province and at Bagram Air Base. 

Soldiers remove the flag from the casket of Pfc. Thomas Wilson at his funeral in 2007.

Along with local National Guard units, many Valley residents have served in Afghanistan with regular Army, Air Force and Navy units. An incident report from Aug. 27, 2007 details an ambush that killed Pfc. Thomas Wilson, 21, a regular Army soldier with the 173rd Airborne from Maurertown in Shenandoah County. According to other members of the units the Private, First Class died while  manning a machine gun to repel the enemy attack. Wilson, who was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, was ten days away from returning home. 

Local residents line the route of Pfc. Thomas Wilson's funeral procession in Shenandoah County in 2007.

Wilson, along with Cherry and Brian Anderson are three soldiers from the northern Shenandoah Valley who have been killed in action in Afghanistan. 

Hburgnews was in communication with active members of the military who served in Afghanistan to confirm and get more information about the WikiLeaks reports, but last week the Pentagon and branches of the military have prohibited U.S. military personnel from visiting the WikiLeaks site or commenting to the media. While we respect the orders under which active members of the military are serving we welcome any local former members of the military who have served in Afghanistan and would like to share their stories with us.

Photos by Holly Marcus. 

3 Responses to “WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Diary Sheds Light on the Service of Local Soldiers”

  1. Several local stories about Afghanistan recently. I’m still thinking about the link Deb shared yesterday. Politically speaking, it seems there’s no true exit for the U.S. there, regardless of the so-called troop withdrawal dates. In that sense, we’re trapped there with no end in sight.

    Nice work, Jeremiah.

    • Frank J Witt says:

      Thank you Brent, I was worried that people really believed that timeline. Our duaghter and her company won’t be home from there till April ’11 and by then Wendy (other daughter) will likely be sent there when she returns from Kuwait in 99 days…..they are both re-thinking their re-enlistment thoughts.

    • We still have U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Philippines, etc. – the presence of a U.S. base is part of the security hand-off. The withdrawal dates relate to U.S. led operations and logistics relative to.

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