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Release of classified Afghan war documents sparks US anger

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Eric Olander

Latest update : 2010-07-27

A trove of 91,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan, released by the WikiLeaks website, is prompting strong reactions in Washington from the White House to Congress as well as in the media.

Even before WikiLeaks published the 91,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan on Sunday, officials across the United States government embarked on an aggressive campaign to contain the public relations damage. 
 
The first shot came from National Security Advisor General James Jones who accused WikiLeaks of action that could put “the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.” He added that “the irresponsible leaks” will not deter Washington’s commitment to the fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
 
Following the statement by General Jones, the White House then sought to finesse media coverage of the impending document release with an email entitled “Thoughts on Wikileaks". The email described WikiLeaks as hostile to U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and as such, should not be regarded as an objective source. 
 
It also reminded reporters that the 2004-2009 timeframe of the documents in question pre-date Barack Obama’s “new strategy” in Afghanistan. The implication is that the problems detailed in the leaked documents do not reflect the current realities of the war in Afghanistan.
 
Congress
 
White House efforts to condemn WikiLeaks and contain the political damage are

Key findings from the WikiLeaks “Afghan War Diaries”

  • The C.I.A.’s paramilitary operations are expanding in Afghanistan
  • The Taliban has used portable, heat-seeking missiles against Western aircraft
  • Americans suspect Pakistan’s spy service of guiding Afghan insurgency
not likely to have much effect. Just as the administration was positioning itself ahead of the release, so were voices on Capitol Hill. The powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, was the first to respond with a direct challenge to the administration:
 
“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right".
 
The media
 
Congress, though, may not pose the biggest obstacle for the administration as it attempts to contain the political damage from the publication of the document set known on WikiLeaks as the “Afghan War Diaries.” 
 
Overall, Barack Obama’s public approval rating has been steadily declining in recent months and the negative relations from the WikiLeaks files may add even more pressure on the president to restore his level of popularity. 
 
An unvarnished look at a hamstrung fight” stated a New York Times headline on Monday. As one of three news publications granted preliminary access to the WikiLeaks data before it was published, the Times also printed a detailed explanation about why it believes the information is credible, which will no doubt serve as a rebuttal to the White House’s attack on the site’s legitimacy. 
 
Homepage of Huffington Post website that prominently features coverage of the "Afghan War Diaries" on WikiLeaks
Elsewhere, the media reaction was far more pronounced. Across the top of the second most popular news website in the United States, the Huffington Post, the headline blared:  “A devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan". The New York Daily News was equally negative with “Secret files reveal Afghan war nightmare".
 
Similar headlines on dozens of media outlets across the United States highlight the significant challenge confronting the Obama administration: persuading an already sceptical American public that the war in Afghanistan is worth additional lives and treasure. Their challenge now, according to analysts, is to prevent the revelations in the WikiLeaks files from fully derailing U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
 
WikiLeaks vs. Washington
 
The release of the “Afghan War Diaries” is just the latest episode in an ongoing struggle between the U.S. government and WikiLeaks. In March, the website published a 32-page classified U.S. counterintelligence report on how to marginalise WikiLeaks. The site’s editor-in-chief Julian Assange refuted the government’s efforts to discredit WikiLeaks as flawed and inaccurate.
 
A month later, the duel between WikiLeaks and the Pentagon took a very public turn when a controversial video was published on the site featuring a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack on suspected Iraqi insurgents. A 22-year old intelligency analyst, Bradley Manning, was arrested in connection with the release of that video and it is widely believed that he is also responsible for leaking the latest batch of classified documents about the Afghan war. 
 
According to the Sunday Times, WikiLeaks is set to publish a new video from the war in Afghanistan that purportedly depicts a U.S. attack that killed 97 civilians.

Date created : 2010-07-26

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