WASHINGTON: The White House denounced a massive leak of secret military files Sunday that allegedly describe how Pakistan's spy service aids the Afghan insurgency, but said the information was no surprise.
In all, some 92,000 documents were released by the web whistleblower Wikileaks, containing previously untold details of the Afghan war through Pentagon files and field reports spanning from 2004 to 2010.
According to the New York Times, one of the first three media outlets to review and report on the leaks, they "suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban."
Britain's Guardian newspaper said the files, many of which detail growing numbers of civilians dying at the hands of international forces as well as the Taliban, painted "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan."
The White House issued its condemnation shortly before the leaks were posted online, saying the information could endanger US lives but also pointing to the administration's long-held doubts about links between Pakistan intelligence agents and Afghan insurgents.
"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security," said White House National Security Advisor James Jones. "These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."
The White House also released a series of remarks made in the past by top officials expressing their concern about links between Pakistan spy services and militants in Afghanistan.
Among them was one from Defense Secretary Robert Gates dated March 31, 2009: "The ISI's contacts with [extremist groups] are a real concern to us, and we have made these concerns known directly to the Pakistanis," referring to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. The New York Times said it, along with the Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, had received the leaked material several weeks ago from Wikileaks, a secretive web organisation that often publishes classified material.
The source of leak was unknown. The last person suspected of providing classified material to the outlet is an American soldier who has been charged with two counts of misconduct for allegedly providing video footage of a US Apache helicopter strike in Iraq in which around a dozen people were gunned down in broad daylight.
Describing "secret strategy sessions," the Times said Pakistan spy services "organise networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders."
US senator John Kerry, chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the leaks "raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. "Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."
With nearly 150,000 US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has set a deadline of July 2011 as the start of a gradual drawdown of US troops, after a nearly nine-year mission that began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Jones, who did not address the veracity of the information contained in the leaks, said that the documents mainly cover the time period of January 2004 to December 2009, when former president George W Bush was in office.
He pointed out that President Barack Obama on December 1, 2009 announced a new strategy that boosted resources for Afghanistan, and put increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan.
"This shift in strategy addressed challenges in Afghanistan that were the subject of an exhaustive policy review last fall," Jones said.
A US official who asked not to be named added: "I don't think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan.
"Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the president ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy," the official said, adding: "Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organisation that opposes US policy in Afghanistan."
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said leaking unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible. "These reports reflect nothing more than single source comments and rumors, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are often proved wrong," he said in a statement.
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