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 publish reports 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.”
Describing the talks as “secret strategy sessions,” the newspaper said they “organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.”
White House National Security Advisor James Jones issued a statement to reporters shortly before the documents were posted online, saying the leaks were “irresponsible” but would not impact US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” Jones said in his statement.
“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 New York Times said it, along with the Guardian newspaper in London and the German magazine Der Spiegel, had received the leaked material several weeks ago from Wikileaks, a secretive web organization that often publishes classified material.
The news organizations agreed to publish their reports, based on the files “used by desk officers in the Pentagon and troops in the field when they make operational plans,” on Sunday when they were to be released on the Internet.
“Most of the reports are routine, even mundane, but many add insights, texture and context to a war that has been waged for nearly nine years,” the Times said in a note to readers describing the leaks.
“Overall these documents amount to a real-time history of the war reported from one important vantage point — that of the soldiers and officers actually doing the fighting and reconstruction.”
The Times added that “much if the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan — cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper said the files painted “a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.”
It listed a series of revelations including that a growing number of civilians were dying at the hands of international forces. It said the logs detailed 144 such incidents.
The Taliban were also causing increasing numbers of civilian casualties with their roadside bombing campaign, which the documents showed had killed more than 2,000 civilians, according to the paper.
The White House also issued to reporters a series of remarks made in the past by top officials expressing their concern about links between Pakistan spy services and militants in Afghanistan.
One was 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.”
Jones, who did not address the veracity of the information contained in the leaks, said that the documents “reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009,” the bulk of which time former president George W. Bush was in office.
He pointed out that President Barack Obama on December 1, 2009 “announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and 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,” in reference to Pakistan’s secretive Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
“In fact, we’ve said as much repeatedly and on the record,” the official said, reiterating that most of the information preceded Obama’s time in office.
“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 that “Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.”