U.S. Signals Leak of Classified Afghan War Documents Won't Alter Strategy

 
By Glenn Kessler and Karen Tumulty
     July 27 (Washington Post) -- The Obama administration and
its allies in Congress sought Monday to turn the leak of more
than 91,000 classified documents about operations in Afghanistan
into an affirmation of the president's decision to shift strategy
and boost troop levels in the nearly nine-year-long war.
     "This administration spent a large part of 2007 and 2008
campaigning to be this administration and saying that the way
that the war had been prosecuted, the resources that hadn't been
devoted to it, threatened our national security," White House
press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The documents cover the years
2004 to 2009; Obama shifted course in December 2009.
     The posting of the documents Sunday night by the group
WikiLeaks.org could complicate House approval of $37 billion in
emergency war funding for Afghanistan and Iraq that has cleared
the Senate, but it is expected to pass. Republicans, who have
generally supported the war effort, were largely silent Monday
about the WikiLeaks revelations, perhaps because the bulk of the
documents concern the war effort during the George W. Bush
administration.
     Lawmakers said that the trove of documents may harden
opposition but is unlikely to suddenly alter impressions of a war
that the administration had previously acknowledged is a tough
slog amid declining public support. The latest Washington
Post-ABC News poll found 53 percent of adults say that the war
has not been worth its costs, matching last month's highest-ever
mark.
     House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is working to
pass the bill that would help fund Obama's 30,000-troop boost for
the war effort, said winning approval is "not an easy thing one
way or another." Although the leaked documents may add to the
volume of the debate, she said, they do not address current
circumstances. "A lot of it predates the president's new policy,"
Pelosi said.
     Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), No. 3 in House leadership, said
the revelations do not change his view of the conflict, nor does
he expect a change in public sentiment. "Back home in Indiana,
people still remember where the attacks on 9/11 came from," Pence
said. "I don't believe this release will have a significant
bearing on the sense of my constituents about the justness of
this war or the imperative of its successful completion."
     The diplomatic consequences of such an intelligence breach
were harder to judge. In Islamabad, Pakistani officials reacted
angrily to allegations in the documents that Pakistan's spy
agency collaborated with the Taliban, with analysts warning the
disclosure could have damaging consequences for Pakistan's
relations with the United States. In Kabul, President Hamid
Karzai was "shocked" that "such a huge number of documents were
leaked" -- but not by the allegations contained in them, his
spokesman told reporters.
     State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the U.S.
ambassadors in Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan, as well as Adm.
Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had
warned senior officials there about the pending WikiLeaks
disclosure and said it had not been sanctioned by the U.S.
government. "We wanted to make sure they understood the context
under which these documents would be released . . . that this
represents a crime and that we are investigating it," he said.
     Gibbs, at his daily briefing, argued that the Obama
administration had largely identified the problems detailed in
the documents and had taken steps to address them. "We have
certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan. We have been
concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time," he
said. "And on both of those aspects, we've taken steps to make
improvements." As for relations with Pakistan, "we understand
that the status quo is not acceptable and that we have to
continue moving this relationship in the right direction."
     Gibbs's case was echoed at the State Department and in
statements issued by leading lawmakers.
     "Most of these documents are several years old and may well
reflect situations and conditions and circumstances that have
either been corrected already or are in the process of being
corrected," Crowley said. "Some of the documents talked about a
conflict that was underresourced and that was a fundamental
element of the strategy review overseen by the president."
     Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the documents "add
nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan.
The materials -- which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 --
reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency
was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was
losing ground."
     "Most of it is old news," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.),
the president's opponent in the 2008 election. "The emerging
picture from this leak adds up to little more than what we knew
already -- that the war in Afghanistan was deteriorating over the
past several years and that we were not winning."
     But Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee and normally a reliable defender of
the administration's policies, warned the documents "raise
serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward
Pakistan and Afghanistan" and "may very well underscore the
stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right
more urgent."
     From a public relations standpoint, the documents could
hardly have appeared at a worse time for the Obama
administration. The previous House vote this month revealed how
skeptical Democrats have grown about the war effort. Although it
passed narrowly -- 215 to 210 -- the majority of Democrats had
voted for an amendment that would require Obama to present a plan
by April for the "safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment of
U.S. troops." That amendment also would have allowed a vote in
Congress to stop additional war funding if withdrawal does not
start by next July, the time administration officials have said
they will start reducing forces in Afghanistan.
     Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M.
Reid (D-Nev.), said: "There's growing questions being raised on
the Hill. All you have to do is look at the votes on the
supplemental" funding bill.
     The obvious comparison that many seemed to jump on initially
was the Pentagon Papers, which helped galvanize public doubts
about the Vietnam War. But unlike the Pentagon Papers, these
documents -- although they are closer to a real-time assessment
and although they land in the superheated Internet era -- do not
reveal any strategy on the part of the government to mislead the
public about the mission and its chances for success.
     Gibbs condemned the leak of the documents, calling their
publication "a concerning development in operational security"
that "poses a very real and potential threat to those that are
working hard every day to keep us safe." But he went out of his
way to praise the New York Times -- one of three news
organizations given an initial peek by WikiLeaks -- for its
responsible handling of the documents once it had received them.
     Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman said officials are
conducting a review of the documents "to try to determine the
potential damage to lives of our service members and our
coalition partners, whether they reveal sources and methods and
any potential damage to national security." The probe, he told
reporters Monday, will take "days, if not weeks."
     Staff writers Shailagh Murray and Michael D. Shear
contributed to this report.

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