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Wikileaks' Afghanistan Reports Are Old News, White House Argues

4 years ago
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The White House, facing its second Afghanistan-related crisis in a month, on Monday sought to play down the leak of 92,000 reports of secret military intelligence regarding the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, released on Sunday by the whistleblower Web site Wikileaks.

Covering a period from January 2004 to December 2009, the material details an uphill battle in the fight to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan, one protracted and complicated by corrupt partners, under-resourced American battalions, questionable covert U.S. military tactics and an enemy more capable and better armed than previously disclosed. The report also underscores assertions that Pakistani intelligence services may be aiding the very Taliban insurgent groups that they are supposed to be combating.

"There are no broad, new revelations," said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "What is being said [in the documents] has been said before by public officials. . . . I'm unaware of a list of concerns that would be different today than they were a week ago, based on what we've seen" in the leaked documents. In regard to possible collusion between Pakistani intelligence forces and Taliban insurgents, Gibbs said, "The challenges we've had with Pakistan intelligence and the Taliban were certainly something we are hoping to address. That in and of itself isn't a surprise."

But Gibbs echoed the comments of National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones, who condemned Wikileak's release of the intelligence material in a statement on Sunday, saying it could "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security." Gibbs said: "It's not the content as much as it is their names, their operations, their logistics, their sources. All of that information out in a public way has the potential to do harm. These documents are classified for a reason."

The Wikileaks scandal, presumed to be one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history, comes as the Obama administration is facing increasing skepticism over whether its new strategy in the region -- announced in December 2009 -- is working. The White House has been battling a war of perception over its handling of Afghanistan -- now the longest-running conflict in U.S. history -- following the abrupt resignation in June of commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal in a scandal relating to a controversial profile in Rolling Stone magazine.

Gibbs asserted that concerns regarding troop resources in Afghanistan -- raised by the Wikileaks documents -- were shared by the administration and led directly to a new strategy for the region, announced last year in December. (The leaked reports do not cover the period following implementation of this new strategy.) "This administration spent a large part of 2007 and 2008 saying the way the war had been prosecuted, the resources that hadn't been devoted to it, threatened our national security," Gibbs explained. He noted that "for years and years and years, more troops were needed, more troops had been requested, but no troops were forthcoming, " adding, "that's why we took a painstaking and comprehensive review" to come up with a new strategy.

Several weeks ago, Wikileaks released the secret military material to three newspapers -- The New York Times, the German newspaper Der Spiegel and the British newspaper The Guardian -- with the caveat that no stories be published before Sunday, the day Wikileaks was scheduled to make the material available for download on its site. Gibbs explained that the White House had not made efforts to contact Wikileaks directly, but did meet last Thursday with reporters from The New York Times, and had passed a message to Wikileaks via the Times staffers, requesting the website to redact information that "could harm personnel or threaten operations or security," according to Gibbs.

In a press conference in London on Monday, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, declined to comment on the identity of the source, or how he was able to copy and leak the documents. Assange would say only that the source was motivated by a desire to "call attention to a number of the incidents" detailed in the reports. Analysts presume the material came from 22 year-old former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. Pvt. Manning had been posted to Baghdad until this spring, though he is now being held in Kuwait regarding a previous leak of classified information to Wikileaks in April of this year -- this one featuring footage of a U.S. military strike that left several civilians dead.

At the same press conference, Assange claimed there was evidence of war crimes in the secret material. For his part, Gibbs offered, "I think that the founder of Wikileaks -- if I read his interviews correctly today -- comparing troops in Afghanistan to the secret East German police is certainly something we would fundamentally disagree with. And somebody that clearly has an agenda." As to Manning's possible role in the leaks, Gibbs said, "I think there are certainly better ways to discuss and register one's opposition."

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