WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - 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.
"The Pakistan government gave up claiming that it could control its intelligence agencies around the time they invented them. I don't think they even try," said Paula R. Newberg, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.
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.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley argued that there is a "new dynamic" in the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan since the period covered by the leaked documents. He acknowledged, however, that the U.S. remains concerned about weaknesses in the relationship, including the problem of corruption in the Afghan government.
"These documents highlight issues we've long known about," Crowley said.
WikiLeaks, a self-described whistleblower organization, posted the reports to its website Sunday night. It did not say who provided the documents.
Crowley said it was unclear whether the leak was related to a U.S. military intelligence analyst who is being held in Kuwait, on charges of mishandling classified information on military computers in Baghdad.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said the documents released so far "reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground."
The Taliban's resurgence led Obama to announce in December 2009 a major increase of forces to Afghanistan as part of a new civil-military strategy, Lieberman pointed out.
Shortly after the documents were posted on the Internet, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said they raised questions about whether the U.S. was pursuing a realistic policy with Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said they showed the urgency of making the "calibrations" necessary "to get the policy right."
Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the leak disturbing.
"The damage to our national security caused by leaks like this won't stop until we see more perpetrators in orange jump suits," Bond said.
The military has detained Bradley Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad, for allegedly transmitting classified information. But the latest documents could have come from anyone with a secret-level clearance, Lapan said.