Washington (AFP) July 26, 2010
The leak of 90,000 secret military files triggered an outcry Monday from nations fighting in Afghanistan as the Pentagon scrambled to determine the source of the huge security breach and whether it would endanger lives.
US experts were working to see if the huge cache "could jeopardize force protection or operational security, or even worse still, the national security of this country," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Fox News.
"Our big fear of course is that there is information in here which could potentially put the lives of our troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere at risk."
Some 92,000 documents dating from 2004 to 2009 were released to The New York Times, Britain's Guardian newspaper and Germany's Der Spiegel news weekly by the website WikiLeaks, which posted them on Sunday.
The most controversial allegations center around claims that Pakistan, a key US ally in the turbulent region, allows its spies to meet directly with the Taliban.
According to the Times, Pakistan agents and Taliban representatives meet regularly "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 files also exposed how the deaths of innocent civilians have been covered up, and how Iran is funding the Taliban militants eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the radical Islamic regime from power.
The bombshell revelations triggered outrage, with a top NATO general calling for increased vigilance to thwart such security breaches as the White House warned the "irresponsible" action could endanger the lives of troops.
The coalition forces needed to be aware that some "documents are pushed out into the open via leaks, but that obliges us even more to work with the greatest care," said General Egon Ramms, who is in charge of the NATO forces in Afghanistan.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Monday played down the likely strategic and political impact of the leaked intelligence.
"In terms of broad revelations, there aren't any that we see in these documents," Gibbs said, pointing out that most of the period covered by the leaks was during the Bush administration.
But he also condemned the leak, warning that the names of service personnel and military operations were now in the public domain.
Britain, which has some 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, said Monday it regretted the leak, as Pakistan said the reports were "skewed" and not based on the reality on the ground.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended the decision to publish the leaked files, saying they showed "thousands" of war crimes may have been committed in Afghanistan.
"It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is in the end a crime. That said, prima facie there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material," he said, citing a missile strike on a house which killed seven children.
In Berlin, the defense ministry, which has some 4,600 troops in northern Afghanistan, strongly criticized the leaks.
"Obtaining and releasing documents, some of them secret, on such a scale is a highly questionable practice since it could affect the national security of NATO allies and the whole NATO mission," a defense ministry spokesman said.
The leaks reportedly link the ISI, Pakistan's secret service, to a failed plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai, attacks on NATO warplanes, a bid to poison the beer supply of Western troops and the 2008 Indian embassy bombing.
In April 2007, the Guardian said the ISI allegedly sent 1,000 motorbikes to Jalaluddin Haqqani, head of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network based in Pakistan, to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
WikiLeaks has not named its informant. But some observers are pointing suspicion at a US soldier, Bradley Manning, who has been arrested and charged in Iraq for allegedly leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, including video of a helicopter strike in Baghdad.
Last month, the Pentagon was probing allegations that Manning supplied the classified video and 260,000 secret diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
As well as releasing the video, Manning, 22, has been accused of illegally downloading more than 150,000 diplomatic cables, 50 of which he is alleged to have transmitted unlawfully to the danger of US national security.
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