Pakistan said the disclosure of about 92,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan wouldn’t affect its relations with the U.S. or its role in the conflict after the White House condemned the leak.
“These things have been regurgitated from time to time by the media or by low-level officials without any endorsement by the U.S. government,” Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said in a phone interview from Islamabad. “There is nothing much in this.”
A theme in the reports is allegations that Pakistan’s main intelligence agency is secretly aiding the Taliban and allied Islamic militant rebels whom the U.S. is trying to defeat, reported the New York Times, the London-based Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, which say Wikileaks gave them weeks of access to the documents. The group opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan, according to a White House statement.
“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 a White House statement. Wikileaks “made no effort to contact” the administration about the documents, he said.
Jones said the documents cover the period leading up to President Barack Obama’s change of direction in the war in Afghanistan, which was begun by former President George W. Bush’s administration after the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaeda.
“On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” Jones said.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said the U.S. military is just starting to assess the significance of the leaked material.
Assessing the Damage
“We’ve only seen a fraction of the documents that are purported to be out there,” he told reporters. “Until we get a look at all of them, we can’t know exactly what the extent of the damage might be” to the safety of troops and information gathering.
“These documents as they have been described are at the ‘secret’ level -- not ‘top secret’ or higher classifications -- so there are any number of people who have access” to them, Lapan said. The documents seen so far represent “the kind of reporting that goes on at the tactical level on a routine basis,” he said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking to reporters at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, said the leaks were largely irrelevant and wouldn’t alter U.K. war policy.
“We’re not going to spend our time looking at leaks,” Hague said. “We are going to carry on with the internationally agreed strategy. They should not be damaging to the international effort.”
Aiding the Taliban
The Times said the reports suggest that members of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate had met with members of the Taliban to organize militias to fight against U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and plot assassinations of Afghan leaders. Babar said the Guardian reported no “smoking gun” to prove covert Pakistani aid to the Taliban, which has been alleged for years by retired U.S. officials who have worked on Afghanistan, and by independent scholars.
The documents buttress years of contention by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the anti-Taliban fight is being hampered “by the cases of civilian casualties and by the role that ISI has played in destabilizing activities within Afghanistan,” Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, told reporters in a press conference today, referring to Pakistan’s spy agency.
“Most of this is what we always have raised with our international partners, and this will now help to raise more awareness,” Omar said.
“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “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.”
Representative Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the documents are “outdated” and, under the Obama administration’s “new counterinsurgency strategy implemented earlier this year, we now have the pieces in place to turn things around.”
“Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban” and “there is no doubt that there have been significant improvements in its overall effort,” Skelton said.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, called the leak of the documents “irresponsible” and said they reflected “nothing more than single-source comments and rumors.” The Pakistani government is “following a clearly laid-out strategy of fighting and marginalizing terrorists,” as a strategic partner of the U.S., Haqqani said in an e-mail.
The leak got little coverage today from Pakistan’s TV news channels and newspapers. The English-language daily, Dawn, published only Haqqani’s dismissal of the leak.
The documents show that Taliban insurgents have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, something that hadn’t been disclosed by the military, the Times said. The reports also provide information about secret commando units seeking to capture or kill top insurgent leaders, and the use of CIA paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan, the newspaper said.
The reports suggest that the Taliban’s use of heat-seeking missiles “has been neither common nor especially effective; usually the missiles missed,” the Times said.
The Times called the documents an “incomplete record” of the war. While the Times said the documents don’t contradict official accounts of the war, the newspaper also said at that times the U.S. military had made misleading public statements.
As examples, the Times cited attribution of the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles and giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by special operations commandos.
The Guardian said the documents show that allied troops have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents. In addition, it said, “Taliban attacks have soared and NATO commanders fear neighboring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency,” referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Der Spiegel said all three publications vetted the documents, compared them with independent reports and concluded they were authentic. The reports were mostly written by sergeants, Der Spiegel said.
“Nearly nine years after the start of the war, they paint a gloomy picture,” Der Spiegel said. “They portray Afghan security forces as the hapless victims of Taliban attacks. They also offer a conflicting impression of the deployment of drones, noting that America’s miracle weapons are also entirely vulnerable.”
Jones said the disclosure wouldn’t alter the White House course in the almost 10-year war.
“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,” Jones said.
The Times said it took “care not to publish information that would harm national security interests.” The newspaper said it withheld “names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports” and “avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods.”
The newspaper described Wikileaks as “an organization devoted to exposing secrets of all kinds” and said the group provided the publications with the documents “several weeks ago” on condition that nothing be published until July 25.
Wikileaks is an organization of Internet network volunteers in more than a dozen countries who obtained and conducted an assessment of the documents, the Washington Post reported.
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, said at a press conference in London the documents “don’t include top-secret papers” or most reports from U.S. special forces, the CIA or reports by coalition partners.
“We have tried hard to make sure this material doesn’t put innocents at harm,” he said. All the documents are at least seven months old and “of no operational consequence.”
Assange said it’s “too early to say” whether the disclosure will influence the course of the war or help or hinder a drawdown of troops.
“It’s clear it will shape an understanding of what the past six years of war has been like, and the course of the war has to change. The manner in which it needs to change is not yet clear,” he said.