(Reuters) – Pakistan was actively collaborating with the Taliban in Afghanistan while accepting U.S. aid, leaked U.S. military reports showed, a disclosure likely to increase pressure on Washington’s embattled ally.
The revelations released by the online organization WikiLeaks emerged as Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of greater NATO casualties in Afghanistan as violence mounts over the summer.
The Taliban said they were holding captive one of two U.S. servicemen who strayed into insurgent territory, and that the other had been killed. The reported capture will further erode domestic support for America’s nine-year-old war.
Contained in more than 90,000 classified documents, the Wikileaks disclosures could fuel growing doubts in Congress about President Barack Obama’s war strategy at a time when the U.S. death toll is soaring.
The White House condemned the leak, saying it could threaten national security and endanger American lives. Pakistan said leaking unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible.
The founder of Wikileaks, a whistle-blowing website, said on Monday that the documents contained evidence of possible war crimes that should be urgently investigated.
“It is up to a court to decide, clearly, whether something is in the end is a crime,” Julian Assange told a London news conference. “That said, prima facie, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material.”
The documents said representatives from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence met directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize militant networks fighting U.S. soldiers.
They also spoke about civilian casualties caused by foreign forces while hunting down militants and efforts on some occasions to cover them up.
At least 45 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed in a rocket attack by the NATO-led foreign force last week during fighting with Taliban insurgents in the southern province of Helmand, an Afghan government spokesman said.
The Afghan government refused to react specifically to the document leak but said Kabul had spoken in private and public meetings with its Western allies about the deaths and the role of ISI in destabilizing Afghanistan.
“Over the years, we have raised the issue of civilian casualties and how harmful civilian casualties or collateral damage could be to achieving our joint objective of defeating terrorism in Afghanistan,” government spokesman Waheed Omer said.
He said there have been reductions in civilian deaths over the past year and a half and that there was a common understanding about the negative impact such incidents have caused and the role of the ISI in supporting the militants.
U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones said the leak would not affect “our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the war began as thousands of extra U.S. troops crank up a campaign to oust insurgents from their traditional heartland in the south.
The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to hunt down militant groups, including some believed to have been nurtured by the ISI as strategic assets in Afghanistan and against arch rival India. Islamabad says it is doing all it can to fight the militancy, adding that it was a victim of terrorism itself.
Under the heading “Afghan War Diary,” the 91,000 documents collected from across the U.S. military in Afghanistan cover the war from 2004 to 2010, WikiLeaks said in a summary.
One of them discusses a meeting of insurgents attended by a former senior Pakistani intelligence official who appears to be working against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a military analyst in Islamabad, questioned the timing of the leak after the term of General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief and ex-ISI boss, was extended by three years. Kayani is seen as having good rapport with U.S. forces.
“They’ve (ISI) said on several occasions that they would be talking to these different groups like any other intelligence agency,” Siddiqa said. “This is nothing new.”
The documents were provided first to The New York Times, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper and German weekly Der Spiegel.
Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have also risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the crossfire.
The only other foreign soldier believed to be held by the Taliban is Idaho National Guardsman Bowe Bergdahl, whose capture in June last year triggered a massive manhunt.
His abductors have issued videos of him denouncing the war, something the U.S. military has called illegal propaganda.