US condemns massive leak of Afghan war files

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2010 (AFP) - The White House has denounced a massive leak of secret military files that allegedly describe how assumed US ally Pakistan's intelligence service secretly helps the Afghan insurgency.

But a US official also said the information was no surprise.

US soldiers stand guard as an auto rickshaw drives past in Dand district, Kandahar Province in Afghanistan on July 24, 2010.

In all, some 92,000 documents were released by the web whistleblower Wikileaks on Sunday, 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 initial three media outlets to review and report 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."

Britain's Guardian newspaper said the files, many of which detail growing numbers of civilians dying at the hands of international forces as well as the Taliban, painted "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan."

The White House issued its condemnation shortly before the leaks were posted online, saying the information could endanger US lives but also pointing to the administration's long-held doubts about links between Pakistan intelligence agents and Afghan insurgents.

"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," said White House National Security Advisor James Jones.

But while calling the leaks "irresponsible," he promised they will not impact the commitment of President Barack Obama's administration "to deepen" its partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The White House also released a series of remarks made in the past by top officials expressing their concern about links between Pakistani spy services and militants in Afghanistan.

Among them was one from Defense Secretary Robert Gates dated March 31, 2009, in which he said that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency's contacts with extremist groups were "a real concern to us."

A US official, who asked not to be named, said he did not think that anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan.

The official also said that Wikileaks was "not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan."

The New York Times, The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel received the leaked material several weeks ago from Wikileaks, a secretive web organization that often publishes classified material.

One of the people suspected of providing classified information to Wikileaks is an American soldier who has been charged with two counts of misconduct for allegedly providing video footage of a US Apache helicopter strike in Iraq, in which around a dozen people were gunned down in broad daylight.

Describing "secret strategy sessions," the Times said Pakistan spy services "organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders."

In one of the documents, Pakistan's former ISI spy chief Hamid Gul is described at a January 2009 meeting with a group of insurgents following the death by a CIA drone attack of a leader of Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan named Zamarai, also known as Osama al-Kini.

"The meeting attendees were saddened by the news of Zamarai's death and discussed plans to complete Zamarai's last mission by facilitating the movement of a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the Khan Pass," it said.

The Times noted that it was unclear whether the attack ever took place, and said that despite the official end of Gul's tenure at the ISI in 1989, "General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities."

According to media reports, the documents disclose for the first time that Taliban insurgents appear to have used portable, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles to shoot down US helicopters.

Such missiles were provided by the CIA to anti-communist guerrillas in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the country was occupied by Soviet troops.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, denounced the leaks saying they consisted of "unprocessed" reports from the field that "do not reflect the current onground realities."

However, US Senator John Kerry, chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the leaks "raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."

With nearly 150,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, President Obama has set a deadline of July 2011 as the start of a gradual drawdown of US troops, after a nearly nine-year mission that began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Pakistan receives more than one billion dollars a year from Washington for its help combating the Islamic militants.

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