Washington The monumental leak of classified Afghan war documents threatened Monday to create deeper doubts about the war at home, cause new friction with Pakistan over allegations about its spy agency and raise questions around the world about Washington’s own ability to protect military secrets.
The White House called the disclosures “alarming.”
The torrent of more than 91,000 secret documents, one of the largest unauthorized disclosures in military history, sent the Obama administration scrambling to assess and repair any damage to the war effort, either abroad or in the U.S. The material could reinforce the view put forth by the war’s opponents in Congress that one of the nation’s longest conflicts is hopelessly stalemated.
The leaks come at a time when President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy is under congressional scrutiny and with polls finding that a majority of Americans no longer think the war there is worth fighting. Still, the leaks are not expected to prevent passage of a $60 billion war funding bill. Despite strong opposition among liberals who see Afghanistan as an unwinnable quagmire, House Democrats must either approve the bill before leaving at the end of this week for a six-week vacation, or commit political suicide by leaving troops in the lurch in war zones overseas.
The Pentagon also was looking at possible damage on the ground in Afghanistan.
“Someone inadvertently or on purpose gave the Taliban its new ‘enemies list,’” declared Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who said the White House indicated the disclosures compromised a number of Afghan sources.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs emphasized that the documents covered the period before Obama ordered a major increase in U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, and the administration denied they would cause any policy shift in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
Indeed, despite the furor over the publication of the reports on the WikiLeaks whistleblower website, the information did not reveal any fundamentally new problems in the war effort. Military officers, current and former, described the documents as mostly tactical spot reports, including hunches about possible suspects and bomb plots that couldn’t be verified. Some of the reports contain errors; others appear to be based on flimsy evidence.
Still, much of the material is anything but encouraging.
Underscoring the difficulties the U.S. faces, the documents include the first publicly released indication that the Taliban has used portable surface-to-air missiles against U.S. helicopters. One report on a June 2005 incident said a Black Hawk helicopter used evasive measures to avoid getting hit east of Kandahar by what its crew chief identified as a portable missile.
The documents also report potential Iranian support of an Afghan terrorist group.
They said that on Jan. 30, 2005, Iranian intelligence agencies brought the equivalent of $212,800 in Afghan currency across the Iranian border and transferred it to a 1990s-model white Toyota Corolla station wagon occupied by members of Hizb-i-Islami, a Taliban-allied insurgent group led by former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The money trail was lost.
Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military would probably need “days, if not weeks” to determine “the potential damage to the lives of our service members and coalition partners.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the release of documents was just the beginning. He told reporters in London that some 15,000 more files on Afghanistan were still being vetted by his organization.
The documents are described as battlefield reports compiled by various military units that provide an unflinching view of combat operations between 2004 and 2009, including U.S. frustration over reports that Pakistan secretly aided insurgents fighting U.S. and Afghan forces.
The material portrays Pakistan as playing a double game when it came to the struggle against Afghan militants, with security officials secretly providing insurgents with aid. Both the U.S. and Pakistan say that view is outdated, but one American analyst said it probably is correct.
In Islamabad, the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the leaked documents “misplaced, skewed and contrary to the factual position on the ground.” And it said that U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation against “our common enemies” will continue.