OPERATIVES in Afghanistan and Pakistan who have worked for the US against the Taliban or al-Qaida may be at risk following the disclosure of thousands of once-secret US military documents, former and current officials said.
As the Obama administration scrambles to repair any political damage to the war effort in Congress and among the US public by the WikiLeaks revelations, there are also growing concerns that some US allies abroad may ask whether they can trust America to keep secrets, officials said.
Speaking in the Rose Garden yesterday, President Barack Obama said he was concerned about the massive leak of sensitive documents about the Afghanistan war, but that the papers did not reveal any concerns that were not already part of the debate.
In his first public comments on the matter, Obama said the disclosure of classified information from the battlefield “could potentially jeopardise individuals or operations.”
In Baghdad, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was appalled by the leak. He said “there is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk.”
The WikiLeaks material, which ranges from files documenting Afghan civilian deaths to evidence of US-Pakistani distrust, could reinforce war opponents in Congress who aim to rein in the war effort. But the leaks are not expected to dim the passage of a looming $60 billion (€460bn) war funding bill.
Congress has backed the war so far, and an early test of that continued support came when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Senator John Kerry, opened a hearing on the Afghan war.
Despite strong opposition among liberals who see Afghanistan as an unwinnable quagmire, House Democrats must either approve the funding bill before leaving at the end of this week for a six-week holiday, or commit political suicide by leaving troops in the lurch in war zones overseas.
Even as the administration dismissed the WikiLeaks material as outdated, US military and intelligence analysts were caught up in a speed-reading battle to limit the damage. The officials are concerned about the impact on the military’s human intelligence network built up over the past eight years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Such figures range from Afghan village elders to militants working as agents.
Colonel Dave Lapan, a Defence Department spokesman, said the military may need weeks to review all the records to determine “the potential damage.”
WikiLeaks said it has behaved responsibly, even withholding 15,000 records that are believed to include names of specific Afghans or Pakistanis who helped US troops on the ground.
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