War Data: Visualization of Afghanistan Hotspots Using Wikileaks Data

How would you take a data set released by Wikileaks and visualize it to see activity in Afghanistan over time? As part of this week’s theme of war data, I present a visualization based on leaked war data.

Mike Dewar, Drew Conway, John Myles White, and Harlan Harris used R code (the scripts, etc., are available on github) to generate the animation below from the Wikileaks Afghanistan War Logs.

(Note: You may access overview data via The Guardian’s DataBlog, whose datajournalists provided their own analyses of the leaked data.)


Mike Dewar writes this about the visualization:

This is a visualisation of activity in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 based on the Wikileaks data set. Here we’re thinking of activity as the number of events logged in a small region of the map over a 1 month window. These events consist of all the different types of activity going on in Afghanistan.

The intensity of the heatmap represents the number of events logged. The colour range is from 0 to 60+ events over a one month window. We cap the colour range at 60 events so that low intensity activity involving just a handful of events can be seen – in lots of cases there are many more than 60 events in one particular region. The heatmap is constructed for every day in the period from 2004-2009, and the movie runs at 10 days per second.

The orange lines represent the major roads in Afghanistan, and the black outlines are the individual administrative regions.

This visualization makes me think of all of the military and civilian lives lost in this war in a way that simply reading a spreadsheet would not. Red equals blood to me.

What do you think of this visualization of Afghanistan hotspots? Are the creators exercising their democratic right to access government data, or should they have shunned its use on principle?

Jewel Ward
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Jewel Ward

Founder and Consultant at Impact Zone Consultancy
Nice to meet you! I am Jewel Ward, founder of Impact Zone. Our specialties are search engine optimization and digital stewardship for creative industry websites.

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2 Replies to “War Data: Visualization of Afghanistan Hotspots Using Wikileaks Data”

  1. My grandson is a combat medic in the Army. He arrived in the area this week on his first deployment. As a parallel I served as a Navy corpsman during Viet Nam, but not in country. War is truly a failure of humans to find compromise and peace. In the U.S. war is linked to industrial growth. The support for any war is filled with those seeking larger contracts and more money for their industry. Continuation of a war feeds them more money and personal success. It is the price of such an effort that is often glossed over. Human life is at risk and policy at any level does not appear to show concern. Political polarization feeds the needs of our lawmakers. Some brazenly want this war and more wars to feed the industrial hunger for profits. Others, know that a dead body is the exclamation point on war effort and a failure to solve issues in non lethal ways. How crude to announce a date of withdrawal and then continue to fight and lose lives just because we have not reached a target date or time. Mankind fails frequently by opting to kill after a failed effort to coexist. Lives are lost perhaps at the last moment for what? Can you really praise a national effort when it results in the death of a patriotic young person at the last moment? We fail our own and many of our own die.

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