The White House sharply condemned the leak of tens of thousands of classified documents that paint a bleak picture of the war in Afghanistan, calling it a security risk that endangers the lives of US troops. In an e-mail to reporters, Gen James Jones, the national security adviser, said the leak was "irresponsible" because it revealed sensitive information that "could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security".
WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website that first obtained the documents, made no effort to contact the administration, according to Gen Jones, who said government officials first learnt of the documents through the media. He also sought to downplay the effect the leak would have on decision-makers in Washington. "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," he said.
The more than 92,000 documents depict in granular detail the many challenges facing US troops in Afghanistan, at times providing an even more grim assessment of the war than the one provided by US officials. The documents reveal for the first time that Taliban insurgents may be using heat-seeking missiles to shoot down US helicopters and also suggest links between Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, and insurgents carrying out attacks against the US troops in Afghanistan.
Gen Jones and other administration officials were careful to point out that the documents cover a period from January 2004 to December 2009, before Mr Obama revamped the US war strategy and deployed an additional 30,000 troops. "President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qa'eda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years," Gen Jones said.
As part of the administration's effort to limit the effect of the leak, a White House official who asked not to be named sent a memo to reporters with "a few thoughts about these stories on background". The official noted that WikiLeaks is "not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan" and downplayed any new revelations about the connections between ISI and al Qa'eda.
"I don't think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan," the official said. "In fact, we've said as much repeatedly and on the record." The United States has long known of ties between Pakistani intelligence officials and insurgent groups. Last year, the Obama administration strongly urged the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, to put an end to such contacts and to step up efforts against the Taliban.
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, questioned the veracity of the information in the documents, saying they "reflect nothing more than single-source comments and rumours, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are often proved wrong after deeper examination". The release of the documents comes as US casualties have risen sharply and as lawmakers here have increasingly expressed doubts about the war plan. Sixty US troops were killed in Afghanistan in June, making it the deadliest month since US forces entered the country nearly a decade ago, according to icasualties.org, which tracks military fatalities. Fifty-eight US troops have been killed so far in July, according to the website.
It was not immediately clear how far-reaching an effect the documents will have in Washington, but John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the new trove of information raises "serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan". "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," Mr Kerry said in a statement.