July 27, 2010
THE White House has accused the whistleblower website run by Australian activist Julian Assange of risking the lives of coalition troops in Afghanistan.
In what has been described as one of the biggest leaks in US military history, Mr Assange's Wikileaks site dumped 90,000 classified documents with left-leaning news outlets worldwide.
The documents are said to outline a rising and unreported civilian death toll, the activities of secret military hit squads, a surge in Taliban attacks, and NATO fears that Pakistan and Iran aid insurgents.
In one report, Pakistan's former ISI spy chief Hamid Gul is described at a January 2009 meeting with a group of insurgents following the death by a CIA drone attack of a leader of Al-Qa'ida operations in Pakistan named Zamarai.
Other leaked material says Iran is waging a covert campaign against US-led forces in Afghanistan by providing money, arms, training and safe haven to Taliban insurgents
According to media reports, the documents disclose for the first time that Taliban insurgents appear to have used portable, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles to shoot down US helicopters
"The US strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of Americans and our partners at risk and threatens our national security," said National Security Adviser General James Jones.
"These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Born in Townsville and educated at the University of Melbourne – where he studied pure mathematics – Mr Assange has no fixed address and was last month named as the target of a Pentagon probe into another leak of a classified video showing a US helicopter shooting civilians in Iraq in 2007.
Military figures fear the leaks – which were taken from documents compiled between 2004 and 2009 and handed to The Guardian, The New York Times and Germany's Der Spiegel – will heighten hostility towards troops in a country where 1967 coalition soldiers have died since 2001. Australia, which has 1550 soldiers in Afghanistan, has suffered 17 troop casualties.
In eastern Afghanistan today, US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said the nine-year war was at a make-or-break stage.
"As we continue (to ramp up) our force levels and our operations over the summer, we will likely see further tough casualties and levels of violence," he said.