WASHINGTON — Some 90,000 leaked U.S. military records amount to an blow-by-blow account of six years of the Afghanistan war, including unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings as well as covert operations against Taliban figures, two newspapers and a magazine with access to the documents reported Sunday.
The online whistle-blower organization Wikileaks posted the documents on its website Sunday. The New York Times, London’s Guardian newspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegel were given early access to the documents.
The White House swiftly condemned the document disclosure, saying it “put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk.”
In a statement, White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones took pains to point out that the documents describe a period from January 2004 to December 2009, during the administration of President George W. Bush.
That was before “President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” Jones said.
The Times said the documents — including classified cables and assessments between military officers and diplomats — describe U.S. fears that ally Pakistan’s intelligence service was actually aiding the Afghan insurgency.
According to the Times, the documents suggest Pakistan “allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.”
The Guardian, however, interpreted the documents differently, saying they “fail to provide a convincing smoking gun” for complicity between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban.
Jones on Sunday lauded a deeper partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan, saying, “Counter-terrorism co-operation has led to significant blows against al-Qaida’s leadership.” Still, he called on Pakistan to continue its “strategic shift against insurgent groups.”
The Guardian report focuses instead on documents that it said reveal “how a secret ’black’ unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for kill or capture without trial” and “how the U.S. covered up evidence that the Taliban has acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.”
Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported that the records show Afghan security officers as helpless victims of Taliban attacks.
The magazine said the documents show a growing threat in the north, where German troops are stationed.
The classified documents are largely what’s called “raw intelligence” — reports from junior officers in the field that analysts use to advise policymakers, rather than any high-level government documents that states U.S. government policy.
While the documents provide a glimpse of a world the public rarely sees, the overall picture they portray is already familiar to most Americans.
U.S. officials have already publicly denounced Pakistani officials’ co-operation with some insurgents, like the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The success of U.S. special operating forces teams at taking out Taliban targets has been publicly lauded by U.S. military and intelligence officials. And just-resigned Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was leading the Afghan war effort, made protecting Afghan civilians one of the hallmarks of his command, complaining that too many Afghans had been accidentally killed by Western firepower.
One U.S. official said the Obama administration had already told Pakistani and Afghan officials what to expect from the document release., in order to head off some of the more embarrassing revelations.
Another U.S. official said it may take days to comb through all the documents to see what they mean to the U.S. war effort and determine their potential damage to national security. That official added that the U.S. isn’t certain who the source of the leaked documents is.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to comment on the release of classified material.
U.S. government agencies have been bracing for the release of thousands more classified documents since the leak of a classified helicopter cockpit video of a 2007 firefight in Baghdad. That leak was blamed on a U.S. Army intelligence analyst working in Iraq.
Spc. Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Maryland, was arrested in Iraq and charged earlier this month with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data, after a former hacker turned him in. Manning had bragged to the hacker, Adrian Lamo, that he had downloaded 260,000 classified or sensitive State Department cables and transmitted them by computer to the website Wikileaks.org.
Lamo turned Manning in to U.S. authorities, saying he couldn’t live with the thought that those released documents might get someone killed.
AP reporter Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.