The White House late Sunday condemned the leaking of what appear to be about 90,000 U.S. military records, as a handful of international media organizations that received access to the documents began to disclose their account of the war in Afghanistan.
In a statement, President Obama's national security advisor, Marine Gen. James L. Jones, deplored the "disclosure of classified information" that he said could put the lives of Americans and U.S. partners at risk and threaten the nation's security.
The website WikiLeaks, which posted the documents late Sunday, provided them ahead of time to the New York Times, the Guardian newspaper in London and the German magazine Der Spiegel, and journalists from those organizations asked the White House for comment. The Los Angeles Times and other Tribune newspapers have not thoroughly reviewed the documents.
According to the New York Times, the documents, which it received several weeks ago, refer to previously unreported incidents of Afghan civilian deaths in the NATO military operations.
The documents also appear to include classified cables and other communications among military leaders, and describe in detail long-reported U.S. fears that some intelligence officials in Pakistan were actually helping the Taliban in Afghanistan, even as the U.S. poured foreign aid into both countries.
According to the New York Times, the documents as a whole suggest that Pakistan has let representatives of its intelligence agency strategize with the Taliban and even plot to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Of particular note is that the documents reportedly say the Taliban has acquired surface-to-air missiles. If true, that could help explain recent crashes of NATO and U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan and could have a significant effect on ground operations.
The documents posted by WikiLeaks, which has not said how it obtained them, reportedly cover the period from January 2004 to December 2009, shortly before Obama announced a strategy of focusing on Al Qaeda and Taliban havens in the semiautonomous region of Pakistan along the Afghan border.
"Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the president ordered a three-month policy review and a change in strategy," said one administration official, who couldn't confirm that the documents were authentic but said that at least some accounts align with information given Obama and his staff last summer.
Jones, meanwhile, said the U.S. and its allies have scored several significant blows against the insurgency since then.
"Yet the Pakistani government — and Pakistan's military and intelligence services — must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups," he said. "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."
WikiLeaks made no effort to contact the U.S. government about the documents, said Jones, who added that the administration learned from news organizations that the documents would be posted. He called the leaks "irresponsible."
The New York Times, in a note to readers, said it had "taken care not to publish information that would harm national security interests."
"There are times when the information is of significant public interest, and this is one of those times," the note reads. "The documents illuminate the extraordinary difficulty of what the United States and its allies have undertaken in a way that other accounts have not."