Washington: A whistleblower leaked tens of thousands of secret military files on the Afghan war Monday, documenting the deaths of innocent civilians and how Pakistan`s spy agency secretly supports the Taliban.
The leaks prompted a furious reaction from the White House, saying they put the lives of soldiers at risk, but the man behind the revelations said the controversy vindicated the decision to break cover.
In all, some 92,000 documents dating back to 2004 were released by the whistleblowers` website Wikileaks to the New York Times, Britain`s Guardian newspaper and Germany`s Der Spiegel news weekly.
They carry allegations that Iran is providing money and arms to Taliban insurgents, and details how widespread corruption is hampering a war now in its ninth year.
The New York Times said the archive illustrated "in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost 300 billion dollars on the war, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001" while the Guardian said the files painted "a devastating portrait of the failing war."
The Guardian said the files acknowledge at least 195 civilian deaths, adding "this is likely to be an underestimate because many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground".
The bulk of the deaths are shootings by jumpy soldiers manning checkpoints. But they include details of how a deaf and dumb man who ran "out of fear and confusion" when a CIA squad entered his home village was then shot dead after he could not hear shouted orders to stop.
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."
In one document, Pakistan`s former Inter-Services Intelligence spy chief Hamid Gul is described at a January 2009 meeting with insurgents following the killing of an al Qaeda leader in Pakistan named Zamarai, also known as Osama al-Kini.
"The meeting attendees were saddened by the news of Zamarai`s death and discussed plans to complete Zamarai`s last mission by facilitating the movement of a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the Khan Pass," it said.
The Times noted that it was unclear whether the attack ever took place, and said that despite the official end of Gul`s tenure at the ISI in 1989, "General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan?s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities."
The White House issued a condemnation shortly before the leaks were posted online, saying the information could endanger US lives. It said concerns had already been raised about links between Pakistan intelligence and Afghan insurgents.
"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security," said White House National Security Advisor James Jones.
But while calling the leaks "irresponsible," he promised they will not impact President Barack Obama`s commitment "to deepen" partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan`s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said the leaks consisted of "unprocessed" field reports that "do not reflect the current onground realities."
The White House released remarks made in the past by top officials expressing concern about links between Pakistan spy services and militants in Afghanistan.
In one dated March 31, 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Pakistan`s ISI spy agency`s contacts with extremist groups were "a real concern to us."
A US official, who asked not to be named, said he did not think that "anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan.
The official said that Wikileaks wass "not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan."
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, said the reactions vindicated his organisation`s mission.
"It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abuses, and when powerful abuses are taken on, there is always a back reaction," Assange, an Australian former hacker and computer programmer, told the Guardian.
In an interview with The New York Times, Assange said the documents reveal broader and more pervasive levels of violence in Afghanistan than the military or the news media had previously reported.
"It shows not only the severe incidents but the general squalor of war, from the death of individual children to major operations that kill hundreds," he said.