The White House has reacted in full damage control mode to the release of classified documents detailing the U.S. military’s struggles in Afghanistan, which the New York Times calls “in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.”
To see the New York Times summary of the documents, click here. To see the Guardian’s coverage, click here. (Advance copies of the documents were provided to both the Times and Guardian, on the condition that they not be released until Sunday.) For more on Wikileaks and its founder, read this excellent New Yorker profile here.
In response, the White House press office is emphasizing two facts. First, the documents concern a time period (2004 to 2009) that precedes the Presidents latest new strategy for Afghanistan. Second, government officials have not exactly been secretive in the past about the connection between the Pakistani ISI and radical elements in the region that are working against U.S. interests. “In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who’ve argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence,” President Obama said, when he announced his latest strategy in December of 2009. (Indeed, in recent months, as TIME has noted, there has been some good news on this front, with the Pakistan government, including the ISI, taking more aggressive actions.)
Like many, we are all still reading through the documents. So more commentary to come. In the meantime, here is the outraged statement about the leak from National Security Adviser Jim Jones:
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. Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009. On December 1, 2009, 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. This shift in strategy addressed challenges in Afghanistan that were the subject of an exhaustive policy review last fall. 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. That is why we are now focused on breaking the Taliban’s momentum and building Afghan capacity so that the Afghan government can begin to assume responsibility for its future. The United States remains committed to a strong, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan.
Since 2009, the United States and Pakistan have deepened our important bilateral partnership. Counter-terrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al Qaeda’s leadership. The Pakistani military has gone on the offensive in Swat and South Waziristan, at great cost to the Pakistani military and people. The United States and Pakistan have also commenced a Strategic Dialogue, which has expanded cooperation on issues ranging from security to economic development. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also improved their bilateral ties, most recently through the completion of a Transit-Trade Agreement. Yet the Pakistani government – and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services – must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups. The balance must shift decisively against al Qaeda and its extremist allies. U.S. support for Pakistan will continue to be focused on building Pakistani capacity to root out violent extremist groups, while supporting the aspirations of the Pakistani people.