WASHINGTON - Some 90,000 leaked U.S. military records amount to a blow-by-blow account of six years of the Afghanistan war, including unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings as well as covert operations against Taliban figures, two newspapers and a magazine with access to the documents reported yesterday.
The online whistle-blower Wikileaks posted the documents on its website yesterday. The New York Times, London's Guardian newspaper and the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel were given early access to the documents.
The White House swiftly condemned the document disclosure, saying it "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk." In a statement, White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones took pains to point out that the documents describe a period from January 2004 to December 2009.
That was before "President [Barack] Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years," Jones said.
The documents include detailed descriptions of raids carried about by a secretive U.S. special operations unit called Task Force 373 against what U.S. officials considered high-value insurgent and terrorist targets. Some of the raids resulted in unintended killings of Afghan civilians, according to the documentation.
The Times said the documents describe U.S. fears that ally Pakistan's intelligence service was actually aiding the Afghan insurgency.
According to the Times, the documents suggest Pakistan "allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban 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 Guardian, however, interpreted the documents differently, saying they "fail to provide a convincing smoking gun" for complicity between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban.
Jones yesterday lauded a deeper partnership between the United States and Pakistan, saying, "Counterterrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al-Qaida's leadership." Still, he called on Pakistan to continue its "strategic shift against insurgent groups."
The Guardian report focuses instead on documents that it said reveal "how a secret 'black' unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for kill or capture without trial" and "how the U.S. covered up evidence that the Taliban has acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles."
Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported that the records show Afghan security officers as helpless victims of Taliban attacks. The magazine said the documents show a growing threat in the north.
The classified documents are largely what's called "raw intelligence" - reports from junior officers in the field that analysts use to advise policymakers, rather than any high-level government documents that states U.S. government policy.