The United States and its allies have scrambled to contain the fallout of a massive leak of military files on the war in Afghanistan that revealed spiraling civilian casualties, a surge in Taliban attacks, and fresh allegations that insurgents are being aided by Pakistani intelligence officials.
The revelations came in 92,000 reports of military incidents and intelligence reports obtained by the whistleblowers website Wikileaks and passed to three Western news organizations: "The New York Times," "The Guardian," and "Der Spiegel."
WIkileaks, which specializes in publishing untraceable leaks from whistleblowers, posted the files on its website.
Included in the files are disclosures that coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in incidents that went officially unreported.
They also record the existence of a secret "black" unit of Special Forces charged with hunting down Taliban leaders for "kill or capture" without trial. Allied forces are using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada, according to the files.
In disclosures that will exacerbate fears that U.S. President Barack Obama's surge strategy is failing, the Taliban is said to have caused growing damage by massively intensifying its roadside bombing campaign with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The files further suggest that military officials have covered up evidence that the Taliban has acquired surface-to-air missiles.
Relations between Washington and Islamabad seemed set to come under further strain by allegations -- in more than 180 files -- that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been secretly supporting the Taliban, something the United States has long suspected.
Included in a catalogue of claims are allegations that the ISI colluded by training suicide bombers, smuggling surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan, plotted to assassinate President Hamid Karzai, and even planned to poison beer supplies to Western troops.
Iran is also identified as being engaged in an extensive campaign to arm, finance, train, and equip Taliban insurgents, Al-Qaeda-linked Afghan warlords, and suicide bombers. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied accusations that it is helping the Taliban or Al-Qaeda fight the Afghan government.
Speaking to "The Guardian," Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said the leaked documents "showed the true nature of this war."
"The public from Afghanistan and other nations can see what's really going on and address the problems. The significance of this material is both the overarching context -- that is it covers the entire war since 2004," Assange said.
He told a press conference on July 26 that he believed the files contained evidence of war crimes.
"It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is, in the end, a crime," Assange said. "That said, prima facie, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."
Responding to criticism that the leaks endangered the lives of allied troops, Assange insisted his website implemented procedures designed to reduce such risks to a minimum.
"So far, our harm-minimization procedures have always worked," Assange said.
"To our knowledge, no one has ever been physically harmed by the material we have released, even though we have caused the change of governments and many other serious reforms."White House Response
In a damage-limitation exercise, the White House responded by branding the leaks "irresponsible" and condemned Wikileaks for failing to contact the U.S. security services.
The Obama administration's national-security adviser, Jim Jones, also stressed that the documents covered a period between January 2004 and December 2009, which predated the launch of the recent troop surge.
"These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan," Jones said in a statement.
"President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on Al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years," he added. "We know that serious challenges lie ahead, but if Afghanistan is permitted to slide backwards, we will again face a threat from violent extremist groups like Al-Qaeda who will have more space to plot and train."
The leaks were also denounced by Pakistan. "These reports reflect nothing more than single source comments and rumors, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are often proved wrong," said Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States.
At a news conference in Kabul on July 26, Afghan presidential spokesman Wahid Omar expressed "shock" at the sheer volume of disclosures, but said Karzai believed few of the revelations were new, that "most of this is what has been discussed in that past, and most of this is what we have always raised with our international partners."
However, he said reports of civilian casualties outlined in the documents chimed with concerns previously expressed by the Afghan government.
"Over the past 1 1/2 years there is a reduction in civilian casualties, certain procedures were put in effect that helped reduce civilian casualties," Omar said. "But civilian casualties and adherence to the motto of protecting Afghan civilians is something that we will continue to press hard on."
The logs reveal -- sometimes in graphic detail -- 144 incidents that resulted in 195 civilians being killed and 174 being wounded.
Many of these were the results of controversial air strikes that have prompted protests by the Afghan government. But others appear to have been caused by forced firing on drivers and motorcyclists out of fear that they could be trying to carry out suicide attacks.
The files record an incident in which French troops fired on a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight, and a U.S. patrol machine-gunning a bus, killing or wounding 15 passengers.
In 2007, Polish troops attacked a village with mortars, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman. The attack was apparently motivated by revenge after the Poles sustained a roadside attack from an IED.
written by Robert Tait with agency reports